Ashby, whose company recently announced a partnership with sodium reduction system Smart Salt, told Food Manufacture: “In the UK we have over 16 million people with high blood pressure and that is one of the main risk factors for stroke, heart failure and kidney disease.
“Regularly eating too much salt puts increased risk of developing high blood pressure because of excess sodium in the body. Ultimately, too much sodium is driving a health crisis in the UK, which is why we should be looking at it from a food manufacturing perspective.”
However, while reducing sodium levels in food production is a noble endeavour both for business and public health, Ashby acknowledged there are several technical challenges to overcome.
“Salt does play an important functional role in a lot of products whether its preservation, or how the product performs in production,” he said. “If you think about bakery, salt impacts the development of dough, the pore size, the use of yeast.
“So it’s very difficult just to say, ‘Well, we’re going to take all the salt out of our products,’ not only from a taste or sensory perspective because salt enables us to taste flavours differently, but also the functional benefits and product performance.”
According to Ashby, these challenges have hampered food manufacturers’ efforts in taking salt reduction as far as they would like.
“Companies are now saying, ‘OK, we’ve done as much as we can and have made great strides in taking our salt levels down, but taking them down further potentially risks damaging the actual product itself,” he told Food Manufacture.
“From a preservation perspective and obviously with the supply chains as they are, a shortened shelf life on products creates a big knock-on effect.”
One of the various potential solutions on the market is Smart Salt, based on patented technology from Finland, which Brusco began distributing exclusively in the UK in February this year. The product, Ashby explained, has been around for about 11 years and is extensively used in the US.
“It’s a co-crystal magnesium – so it’s a combination of magnesium chloride, potassium chloride and sodium chloride,” he said. “A lot of the other products on the market are potassium based. Magnesium has a lot of health benefits itself for balancing minerals, which again helps heart health and healthy balanced diet.”
The product can be used as a direct replacement for salt and has a wide range of applications, according to Ashby.
“The great thing about Smart Salt is that it really mimics the flavour profile and the functional properties of salt,” he said.
“We’ve done quite extensive consumer acceptance testing across a whole range of different product categories to determine whether people can taste the difference between regular sodium chloride and smart salt and all of the test results that we've got show that actually it’s very indistinguishable.”
Ashby also pointed out the flexibility of the product as one of its advantages. “We can formulate it to achieve anything from a 10%, sodium reduction all the way to a 60% sodium reduction in products,” he said.
Ashby highlighted some of the other health challenges facing the food industry. “I think sugar reduction will continue to be a big focus for everyone,” he said.
“There’s probably a lot more Government focus around sugar reduction as there is around salt reduction right now. There’s a real need for the UK marketplace to take it on board and do something about it.
“There’s also the awareness and management of allergens,” Ashby added. “We’ve seen over the last couple of years how critical that is and making sure appropriate safeguards are in place to prevent allergens getting into the supply chain.”