Salt levels in convenience foods have become a high-profile issue and sparked a mass of activity by manufacturers to reduce salt content.

With an estimated 22 million people across Britain trying to cut down on the amount of salt they eat - according to research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) - manufacturers have been under pressure to reduce the salt content of their brands.

Salt reduction is a priority for the government and the FSA has a target to reduce the salt intake of the population to 6g per person, per day, by 2010. The FSA claims that most people who want to cut back have stopped adding salt to their food at the table or when cooking, and sales of household salt have dropped by 10% in a year.

The latest phase of the FSA’s salt awareness initiative, which was launched in October last year, focuses on the salt levels in processed foods. Heinz has shown its commitment to the campaign by inviting consumers to check out the reduced salt levels on some of its most popular products.

An on-pack flash ‘Check out my salt level!’ has been rolled out across Heinz Baked Beanz, Spaghetti Hoops, Cream of Tomato Soup, Cream of Chicken Soup and Vegetable Soup, and the salt content in the dietary information box has been given a greater emphasis.

Ben Pearman, commercial director for beans and pasta meals at Heinz, says: “Salt levels in Baked Beanz have been cut by more than 35%, and in Spaghetti Hoops by 33%. Overall we use 19% less salt in our recipes than we did a year ago.”
Meanwhile, Weight Watchers is working closely with the FSA to pull down the salt content of its products. “We work hand in hand with the FSA on our guidelines of 5g of salt a day for females and 7g for males,” says Elizabeth Egan, head of product licence at Weight Watchers.

“Weight Watchers works on a points system so we aim for a certain amount of salt to be in each point of food so that a typical day plan wouldn’t exceed guidelines.”

Baxters has been working hard over the past three years to minimise the salt levels in its soup ranges. All of its products now match the FSA target of an average salt content across its range of 0.6g per 100g. The company has also launched the Healthy Helpings range of healthier soups with reduced sugar, salt and fat content.

The yellow fats sector has been doing its bit with a number of launches flashing lower salt levels - the latest being from Country Life with its Spreadable Lightly Salted butter in January.

Likewise, Oriental Express Frozen Foods has relaunched its Sizzling Stir Fry range with less salt. Chinese chicken, chicken chow mein and Chinese prawns now contain up to 48% less salt. Packs have been redesigned with clearer labelling and a blue heart logo flashing ‘Now with reduced salt’.

Who’s doing what
Heinz - using the flash ‘Check out my salt levels!’ on the front of tins for key brands, to encourage consumers to check the label

Unilever - from December 2005, Captain Birds Eye’s products have included the salt-equivalent levels on the back of packs in children’s ranges, highlighted in white

Co-op - distributed 1,000 each of the Agency’s ‘Salt-o-meters’, salt leaflets and EatWell leaflets to staff, customer services and Co-op members

Tesco - showed the FSA ad on Tesco TV for the duration of the salt campaign and distributed 5,000 of the Agency’s ‘Salt-o-meters’ in its Pharmacy Goody Bags

Sainsbury’s - distributed 11,000 of the Agency’s ‘Salt-o-meters’, salt leaflets and EatWell leaflets to its local food advisors

Asda - used FSA messages on its shelf barkers.
Source: Food Standards Agency