The food industry and governments around the world are working in partnership to proactively reduce the level of salt in food, according to the World Cancer Research Fund’s International Nourishing Framework. The framework, which monitors policy developments around the world that promote healthier eating, identified 22 voluntary programmes where governments have partnered with the food industry and other organisations to voluntarily reformulate food. These partnerships are designed to help meet the World Health Organization's target to reduce salt intake to five grams per day by 2025.

Sodium is an essential nutrient for the body and plays an important function in foods however studies have shown that a high-sodium diet can contribute to high blood pressure in some people. While European and American policy makers are working with the industry to focus on reducing salt in products such as bread and meat, in Asia the focus has been on condiments like soy sauce and salted foods which are the main source of salt in diets.

In South Korea, for example, South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, academics and NGOs have introduced the “Less Salt Campaign”. Launched in March 2012 the initiative aims to increase awareness of the issues caused by a high level of salt intake and encourages food and foodservice businesses to participate in salt reduction. Their aim is to decrease sodium intake by 20 per cent from 2010 to 2017.

To help drive this process they have developed a range of reduction guidelines for certain foods which includes Kimchi, soy sauce, soybean paste, noodles and salted fish. By 2013 food companies had already made strong progress with 13 food manufacturers voluntarily producing or reformulating 87 food products with lower salt levels.

In Malaysia, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam recently announced that food companies had shown a strong commitment to voluntary reformulation by reducing salt content between two and 40 per cent of their original level in 30 different types of food. This includes food such as biscuits, soy sauce, instant noodles and snacks.

Singapore’s Health Promotion Board’s Centre of Excellence for Nutrition worked with private sector partner, Singapore Food Manufacturers Association, in 2011 to make healthier food options. This partnership included developing a salt option that had 25 per cent less sodium compared to regular salt.

Singapore’s Director for the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Dr Regina Moench-Pfanner said public private partnerships are vital to improving nutrition across the world.

“The dual burden of under and over nutrition cannot be tackled alone. The public, private, academic and NGO sectors all need to work together to develop solutions to this complex issue,” Dr Moench-Pfanner said.

While industry and governments are working together across the region to tackle this issue, there are a number of food companies who have gone a step further and recently announced their global plans to reduce the level of salt in their products.

Nestlé is accelerating its move to reformulate its product range. It started to progressively reduce salt levels in its foods in 2005, however in November last year Nestlé increased its commitment by announcing that all its food brands worldwide would meet the World Health Organization’s 2025 target for salt reduction.

Unilever’s first milestone was to reduce salt levels to an interim target of six grams per day by the end of 2010, which required reductions of up to 25 per cent. Building on this commitment, Unilever intends to reduce salt levels by a further 20 per cent to meet five grams of salt per day between 2015 and 2020.

As part of its “Call for Well-being”, last month Mondelēz International announced that it would be expanding its commitment to health and wellness by delivering a reduction in sodium by 10 per cent across all of its products by 2020. Kellogg’s has already reduced the amount of sodium per serving in its ready-to-eat cereals by 18 per cent between 2007 and 2012, while Mars is planning to reduce sodium across its entire global food portfolio by 15 per cent.

FIA Chief Scientific Officer, Kim Leighton said it’s encouraging to see the industry playing such a proactive role to address the level of salt used in formulation.

“People often don’t realise how complex it is to reduce salt content in products. It can stop spoilage, enhance appearance and texture of food as well as add to the consumer’s taste. It’s great to see companies developing innovative solutions for formulation that reduce salt levels but retain consumer acceptance and setting ambitious targets for reduction across their portfolio.”

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