Unilever promises to cut salt content of 22,000 food products

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 22nd April 2009

In the next few years, Unilever has pledged a worldwide effort to reduce the salt content of almost its entire food portfolio, covering 22,000 products.
Unilever’s aim is to reduce the salt content of its products by the end of 2010, with a further reduction likely by 2015. The Dutch-based conglomerate believes they are the first food company to set worldwide goals for salt reduction across its entire product range.

The targets were announced overnight by Gaby Vreeken, Vice President Marketing of Unilever Benelux, at a press conference in the Unilever Research & Development Centre in Vlaardingen.

“Promoting a lower salt intake fits in with Unilever’s Vitality mission,” he said. “It is an ambitious plan, but it can be done and really must be done. The challenge lies in achieving these results without compromising on flavour, quality and shelf life of our products.”

The bulk of salt intake for consumers comes from processed foods, Vreeken noted, with the reformulation of food a key step to tackling the issue of high salt consumption.

“Approximately 75% of total salt intake comes from processed foods such as bread, cheese, meat, sauces and soups,” he advised. “Consumers will be more likely to adapt their taste preference to lower levels of salt if the food industry as a whole reduces salt levels.”

High blood pressure

An estimated quarter of all people worldwide suffer from high blood pressure. Recent research has shown that reducing the current salt intake by a quarter to a third could prevent an equal percentage of cardiovascular diseases. In the long term this could reduce the number of related deaths by one fifth.

“Our approach is special in that we do not merely look at the salt content of our products; we also consider their daily dietary contribution, by looking at how often people eat certain products,” Gert Meijer, Unilever Vice President Nutrition and Health, suggested. “For example, eating soup accounts for 10% of the salt intake. If we want to reach a maximum of 6 grams per day, our soups may contain no more than an average of 360 mg sodium per 100 grams in 2010.”

Online salt test

In addition to reducing salt in its products, the consumer products giant also intends to inform its consumers about the consequences of eating too much salt. They launched an online salt test in Belgium and the Netherlands overnight, which helps to give people a rough idea of their salt intake. Unilever has already asked over 1,000 consumers to fill out the salt test.

The online questionnaire has shown that 61% of the respondents in the Netherlands (71% in Belgium) eat too much salt (more than 6 grams per day), with 21% in the Netherlands (30% in Belgium) consuming even more than 9 grams. Through the salt test Unilever also wants to provide more background information about the health aspects of salt. Additionally, the company wants to further extend its product range bearing the Choices logo.

The company,  famous in Australia for their Lipton, Streets and Flora brands, said the move was part of their Nutrition Enhancement Programme (NEP), through which it already removed 9,100,000 kilos of salt from its products.

Unilever is removing salt from products through recipe reformulations and other ingredients will be used to compensate such as aromas, herbs and spices. In addition, their research laboratory in Vlaardingen will continue searching for innovative solutions to fulfil the role of salt in extending the shelf life and enhancing the structure of products.