“War on salt”: Suppliers say meat alternatives pose challenges for reduced sodium targets
04 Oct 2021 --- In today’s health-conscious era, food producers are vying to meet the demands of savvy consumers seeking sodium-reduced foods. New government health policies and regulations have further compelled companies to seek salt reduction solutions. At a glance, consumers worldwide are shifting toward healthier eating habits. However, with plant-based and meat analogs becoming mainstream, are these alternative products causing a problem for salt reducers?
FoodIngredientsFirst speaks with key suppliers who share their insights on the topic. Firstly, Chris Briers, global product manager for taste & well-being at Givaudan, says that globally consumers are overeating salt with an average of 9 to 12 g per day.
“Recommendations according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is to limit salt consumption to a maximum of 5 g. This may reduce many commonly associated risks, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and coronary heart attack.
“Reducing salt intake has been identified by WHO as one of the most cost-effective measures countries can take to improve health outcomes,” he outlines.
Governments are taking note of these conclusions, Briers says. Recently, some governmental initiatives, such as Nutriscore in Europe, have been launched to inform consumers about the risk of over-consuming specific products.
Spotlight on meat alternatives
With the meat-free space gaining further momentum, in line with Innova Markets Insight’s number two trend for 2021 “Plant-Forward,” food developers are faced with challenges concerning salt levels.
“While this product segment is generally perceived as healthy, to create a meat-like food experience, manufacturers may be tempted to resort to high salt levels,” comments Briers. “If manufacturers want to ensure that their nutritional data is aligned with the product’s healthy positioning, they need to pay attention to the sodium content.”
Meanwhile, Aurélie Mauray, market manager for plant proteins at Roquette, says that “a major driver for plant-based meat purchases is health.”
“Consumers are also driven by good protein content, and sodium levels in these products should remain low as these products are often consumed every day.”
Notably, a 2020 study from Action on Salt, a UK lobby group, highlighted that two-thirds of out-of-home plant-based meals were high in salt.
“We aim to help reach a good nutritional profile for new product development or reformulation of existing ones,” adds Benjamin Voiry, head of marketing for proteins at Roquette.
“From a nutritional perspective, we know sodium level is scrutinized on the nutrition panel, and reduction of the overall sodium content of those alternative meats is a reality,” continues Mauray. “The level of sodium in the formula can come from the seasoning but also from the core plant protein ingredient itself.”
Who and what is driving this demand?
According to Mauray, the overall demand for plant-based foods is mainly driven by flexitarian consumers willing to fulfill healthier lifestyles.
“In plant-based meats, sodium levels can be pretty high and come from either the seasoning or plant protein used in the formula.”
Roquette has developed a new plant protein ingredient offering specific properties such as low sodium to help our customers decrease sodium in their products.
“Since COVID-19, we have seen a focus on health and overall well-being from consumers as a key driver for plant-based foods adoption with more pressure put on food developers to clean up labels, especially meat alternatives,” Mauray explains.
According to Tali Feingold, business unit director of Salt of the Earth, this new focus on meat alternatives has shifted in recent years.
“At first, the emphasis and the demand came from sauces and gravies. Within time it expanded to meats and delis, and then snacks. However, today, more and more referrals are arriving from plant-based meat analogs and simple plant-based applications,” she explains.
Of course, health is a crucial driver for reducing salt, but Feingold emphasizes how customers are still not willing to forfeit the taste factor.
“With more cooking and dining at home required, consumers are actively finding simple ways to avoid overly processed foods that are high in salt content,” she adds.
Salt and snacks
Within the savory snacking arena, salt often offers functionality for snacks.
“It can ensure the expansion of an extruded snack, adding volume to coatings, and it is also an effective preservative, especially for meat applications,” notes Mieke Bloemen, marketing manager for snacks in Europe at Griffith Foods.
“The functionality of salt is as important as the taste is.”
“Within the savory snacks market, we have noted that salt targets are decreasing year on year with much less salt in products than was the case 30 years ago. Overall, there has been no compromise on taste and texture,” she says.
Bloemen flags how she sees a core market interaction in play for “the war on salt.” This interaction involves three main groups, she states. “The first is the retailer who wants to offer healthier food options by showcasing food products with nutritional labeling so that the consumer can compare and make the best decision.”
The second group are governments. “They are concerned about decreasing cardiovascular diseases and thus are driven to lower medical costs and to keep their nation healthy.”
Bloemen says the third group is consumers themselves as they strive for better and healthier lifestyles. “Food products need to work and fit in their healthy eating habits.”
These three interactions lead to a reaction of the food processors: reducing or eliminating sodium levels across their product ranges, particularly snacks, she notes.
COVID-19 shapes future trends
Before the pandemic, consumers were already aware of the benefits that come with a healthier lifestyle.
Bloemen believes that COVID-19 conditions have “accelerated the need for healthier snacks even more.”
“The pandemic may have catalyzed some trends already in play. We all want to live longer and in the healthiest way possible – snacks should fit into our lifestyles.”
Griffith Foods has conducted a consumer survey across Europe and asked consumers: What is a healthy snack according to you? Almost 70% of consumers said that a healthy snack has natural ingredients: no added preservatives, no artificial colors or flavorings.
They also cited that a healthy snack contains less or no sugars, less or no fat and is a source of vitamins and minerals. Bloemen also mentions that consumers see micronutrients becoming more widespread.
The company recently launched Infuso, a natural, flavored oil that is poised to shake up the snacking sector and aid manufacturers in “their quest for an outstanding snacking experience.”
By Elizabeth Green
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