Food and drink makers looking for ways to reduce sugar and retain sweetness – as opposed to replacing sugar altogether – have a limited number of options, and the preference in recent years has been stevia-derived sweeteners, as companies tap into positive consumer perception of plant-based ingredients. Monk fruit is set to follow, with its different functionality, according to Euromonitor food analyst Deborah Cross.
Writing on the market research organisation’s blog, Cross said: “Both ingredients thrive on their natural, zero-calorie credentials in the overall market. However, the necessity for manufacturers to use a range of ingredients and technologies in reducing sodium further illustrates the complex nature of this market and highlights achievements already made, where as much as 40% sodium has already been removed from some food products.”
Taste, function and shelf life
Indeed, there is still no ingredient that can match salt (sodium chloride) in terms of taste, function and shelf life, although there are many ingredients that offer some kind of compromise.
Mike Kagan, technical manager for Cambrian, spoke with FoodNavigator last week about the use of Scelta Mushrooms’ Camlow ingredients for salt reduction. He said that potassium chloride – still a mainstay in salt reduction – is “old technology”.
Referring to bread in particular, Kagan said that Camlow mushroom-based ingredients enhance the other flavours in savoury and baked goods, and are incorporated by using calcium chloride as a carrier, avoiding the bitter, metallic flavours associated with potassium chloride.
“The chloride is the most important part for structure, but the flavour is much better than potassium chloride,” he said.
No magic ingredient
However, while there are plenty of interesting options, there is no ‘magic ingredient’ for reducing salt while retaining its flavour and function, says Cross, who suggests that industry could communicate better to speed salt reduction.
“Potentially, a reformulation problem faced by one particular manufacturer has already been solved by another. Any single manufacturer may not have a bird’s eye view of how best to resolve the issue, and this is where the government liaison body can help,” she said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) hopes to reduce salt consumption by 30% by 2025 – to bring national consumption levels to less than 5 g per person per day, its maximum recommended intake for optimal health.
Covert or overt reduction?
The way in which manufacturers have responded to the WHO and national goals varies by country. In Spain and the Netherlands, food companies are reducing salt without mentioning it to consumers, while in the UK, companies increasingly are telling consumers about salt reduction.
“This may reflect differences in consumer acceptance of reduced sodium products between countries, but suggests that with the right consumer education, direct marketing of products positioned with a reduced sodium content may be possible,” Cross said.
According to Euromonitor data, sales of reduced salt products have been growing at an average of 10% a year since 2008, outpacing sales of reduced sugar products, which have been growing at 2% a year. The market researcher says that most growth in the reduced salt product category largely has been driven by innovation in Western Europe.