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Salt-reduced foods grow in popularity

By staff reporter , 30-Sep-2005

The appeal of salt-reduced food formulations confirmed as fresh figures reveal salt sales are on the decline, finds a new report.

 

The message pushed by government and consumer groups that a high-salt diet is detrimental to the health is starting to have an impact.

Over the past few years, the salt sector has seen sales fall 13 per cent from £23 million in 2000 to about £20 million this year.

Table and cooking salt have been the main casualties, according to the Mintel report, losing 15 per cent and 17 per cent of volume sales respectively between 2003 and 2005.

In contrast, sea/rock salt and low sodium alternatives have increased, but between them they account for just 20 per cent of the total salt market, not enough to stem the decline.

Condemned for contributing to the worsening health problems in the population, food makers are under orders to cut salt levels in their processed food formulations.

Eating too much salt is a significant risk factor in developing high blood pressure, itself a cause or contributing factor in the rising incidence of heart disease, the world's number one killer.

Recent figures from the UK's food agency claim that every day at least 26 million people eat more than the recommended daily limit of 6g of salt. Men are eating the most with a daily average of 11.0g of salt while women consume an average of 8.1g a day.

But targets published recently by Blair's government in the White Paper on Public Health say the food industry must contribute to reducing the salt intake of the population to 6g per person per day by 2010.

The government estimates that processed foods, from soups and sauces to breakfast cereals and snacks, contribute about 75 per cent to people's salt intakes.

But with the free fall of salt sales comes the opportunity of improved gains from alternative flavour enhancers.

"Many consumers have been advised to cut salt intake and look to other means of flavouring food, maybe choosing pepper and herbs over salt," says James McCoy, senior consumer analyst at Mintel.

Over the past few years the pepper sector has seen a healthy 5 per cent year on year growth following a particularly buoyant year in 2001 (30% growth) due to high commodity prices.

Indeed, in 2005 the market is set to value £31 million, a third more than sluggishsalt sales.

And volume is said to be increasing even faster, with market growth mainly being driven by sales of premium products, such as coarse and whole peppercorns.

Fresh herbs are also seeing impressive growth. In 2000 sales of fresh herbs were worth just £17 million, accounting for the fourth largest share of the UK seasonings market.

At this time dried herbs, seasonings and spices accounted for the largest market share, with salt in second and pepper in third place.

Dried herbs, seasonings and spices still account for the greatest slice of the market (41 per cent), but fresh herbs now make up the second largest share, with nearly a quarter (22 per cent) of market value in 2005.

Between 2000 and 2005 sales of fresh herbs shot up by 124 per cent to reach £38 million.

Pepper now stands in third place with just under a fifth (18 per cent) of the market.

While salt sales have plummeted to fourth place with just 13 per cent. The remaining 12 per cent of the market is made up of curry powder.

"Fresh herbs continue to perform well, more than doubling sales over the last five years due to an explosion of interest and high profile campaigns in 2001 and 2002," adds James McCoy.

Although the salt sector is clearly suffering, the over-65s still show a marked preference for table salt over any other form of seasoning, finds the report.

More than three in five (61 per cent) over-65s have bought table salt in the six months to May 2005 compared to an average of 55 per cent.

"This generation is likely to have grown up adding salt both to cooking and again at the table.

They are less familiar with the herbs and spices that have slipped into mainstream cooking, relying more on traditional condiments such as salt and pepper to season meals," adds McCoy.

And the salt market is still booming in Scotland. According to Mintel , almost seven in ten - 66 per cent - have bought salt in the past six months.

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