Reducing salt in food
Salt is essential for a healthy diet, but too much can cause serious problems.
A holistic approach
Worldwide, over a quarter of adults have high blood pressure leading to around eight million deaths each year. The current average daily intake is between 9 and 12g; the World Health Organisation recommends 5g.
In April 2009, Unilever launched a salt reduction strategy covering 22 000 products – the first company to set such goals across its portfolio. Gert Meijer, VP Nutrition and Health, comments, "We are dealing with daily dietary contribution in a holistic way, rather than looking at individual products or simply launching a lower salt range."
It’s a fine balance
Because our palates are so accustomed to salt, the challenge is to reduce it without compromising on taste, shelf-life and cost. Through co-operation between scientists and chefs, we have reformulated recipes using low-sodium salt or substitutes, and enhanced flavour using alternative ingredients such as tomatoes, herbs and spices.
The flavour group
Our Flavour Generation and Delivery group develops solutions by understanding how saltiness is sensed in the mouth and the brain. To speed up and improve flavour development, we created the Flavour Operating Framework (FLOF). This initiative provides a globally consistent way for us to collaborate with suppliers. FLOF has helped maintain the taste of Lipton ready-to-drink tea whilst reducing sugar content and meant that Knorr products keep their flavours despite lower salt levels.
A taste of the future
So far we have removed 3640 tonnes of sodium (9100 tonnes of salt) from the portfolio, and we have committed to further reduction. We are keen to partner governments, NGOs and other manufacturers to make this common practice across the industry. But as Gert Meijer explains, "We need a level playing field here. If we reduce salt and other companies don’t, consumers may just switch brands. People need to cut down in their daily menu, so we need widespread agreement."