According to figures supplied to FoodManufacture.co.uk by Nielsen, UK retail sales of salt (including cooking, table and sea salt) shot up 12% by value to £32.6m and 17.5% by volume to 36.7m kilos in the year to May 31.
Kantar WorldPanel, meanwhile, reports an even sharper rise, claiming that value sales (including cooking, table, sea, rock, speciality and Low Salt) surged 17.5% to £31.1m in the year to May 17, 2010, while volumes were up 26.5% to 36.2m kilos.
While these figures will have been partially skewed by the fact that people used table salt as a de-icer during the exceptionally cold winter, Nielsen also records a sharp rise in 2008/09, which cannot be attributed to extreme weather.
Lies and damned statistics?
On the face of it, the data would appear to lend credence to the argument that consumers are increasingly compensating for the lack of salt in processed foods by adding more at the table.
However, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said urinary analysis data, which shows how much salt people actually eat, had shown that average adult intakes had dropped from 9.5g/day in 2001 to 8.6g/day in 2008, which proved its salt reduction campaign was working.
Meanwhile, rolling data that the FSA had purchased from Kantar indicated that sales of table salt had “remained relatively static between November 2007 and December 2009 once uplifts in sales due to the bad weather in February 2009 and early December 2009 onwards are taken into account”, claimed a spokesman.
“This period of static sales follows a reduction in sales of table salt between 2004 and 2007 of approximately 20%.”
To confuse matters further, a Leatherhead Food Research (LFR) report on salt reduction published in May suggests that retail sales of salt (by value) were flat between 2004 and 2007 and then dipped slightly in 2008. But it does not have figures beyond that year.
More definitive figures would be available next year, when the FSA published the results of new urinary analysis studies, said a spokesman.