The survey – which supports recent claims that food manufacturers’ efforts to reduce salt were reaching their limits – revealed that foods with low-no-reduced-sodium claims fell by 5% between 2010/2011. Such claims appeared on just 2% of total food launches last year.
Chris Brockman, Mintel’s global food and drink analyst, said: “A large percentage of the global food industry remains wary of the commercial impact of reducing salt in its products. This anxiety is well-founded, with many products positioned as low sodium forced off the shelves prematurely in recent years due to poor sales.”
Brockman added that manufacturers had struggled to find workable salt substitutes, forcing many to leave the market. “Efforts are being made to offer consumers alternatives to sodium. However, existing salt replacements have not caught the imagination of consumers. Consumers are concerned about salt intake, but are not willing to compromise on taste,” he said.
The UK market saw the second highest number of low-no-reduced-sodium product launches last year – accounting for 3% of all new food products.
Less than a third (22%) of UK consumers reported buying low salt products. Just 4% of consumers said they had cut back on table sauces because of health concerns.
Global leader for low-no-reduced-sodium product launches was the Netherlands, where 9% of all new products carried the claim.
In France, the figure was 2% last year while in Spain it was 1.4%. In Germany and Italy it was just 1%.
To be successful, brands must dispel widely held perceptions about low-sodium or salt alternatives, said Brockman. “Many food brands are already introducing step-by-step salt reduction programs that gradually reduce the salt content of their products – a strategy often called 'stealth health'".
The incremental removal of sodium can be carried out over time to help the consumer to become accustomed to the changed flavour profile. That avoids the need to highlight the lower sodium content on-pack, which may deter consumers who might perceive "less taste", he said.
Mintel said the results supported the trend it termed ‘fauxthenticity’. This referred to how food alternatives can become preferable to real versions, because they offered health, environmental or cost advantages.
Richard Cope, Mintel’s principal trend analyst, said: “Sometimes a fake alternative carries less risk than its authentic cousin, especially when it comes to something like alcohol.
"An option might be for manufacturers to explore tricking consumer taste buds and marketing foods that smell – as opposed to taste salty.”
The success of that approach was revealed by sales of meat substitutes, B&Q's fake grass and sunless tanners, he added.
Last month Leatherhead Food Research confirmed salt reduction in food was reaching its limits.
Its research backed claims from the Food and Drink Federation.
In 2011 the UK crisps, savoury snacks and snack nuts market was valued at £2.5bn. To read more, click here.
Food launches with low/no/reduced sodium claims
- Snacks –16%
- Sauces and seasonings –14%
- Baby foods – 12%
- Breakfast cereals – 10%
- Bakery – 11%
- Dairy – 8%.