- General Mills met its goal of reducing sodium by 20% across all 10 key U.S. product categories, including Mexican dinners, ready-to-eat soup and cereal. In addition, the CPG company said it had made significant sodium reductions in other segments not included in its initial commitment, such as frozen breakfast items, dessert mixes, grain snacks and frozen appetizers.
- The company noted it also boosted the nutrient density of its products by increasing whole grains, fiber and vitamins and minerals across food groups.
- "As we continue on this journey, we have actively invested — and will continue to do so — in developing the advanced technical solutions that will be required to achieve additional sodium reductions," Tom Hockenberry, senior director of the company's innovation, technology and quality team, said in a release.
Back in 2010, General Mills made the commitment to reduce sodium in 350 products by 20%. It has followed through by discovering ways to achieve such reductions but still meet consumer demands.
It took General Mills about five years to meet the goal in seven of the 10 product categories, and it took the last four years to achieve the remaining three, according to FoodBev Media. In some product formulations, the company replaced sodium with additional spices, while in others the sodium was applied to the surface of food where it could be tasted more easily.
Consumers are likely to appreciate the company's salt-reduction efforts, especially if they can't taste the difference. Like other CPG manufacturers, General Mills knows that flavor is the main criterion behind food choices, Anything that can be done to further reduce salt consumption and still preserve a product's familiar taste will probably enhance its competitive position in the market.
Concern about salt consumption has been a main driver of many recipe changes in the past few years, along with initiatives to limit sugar and artificial ingredients. As more consumers have prioritized heatlhy eating, the number of better-for-you products with less salt and sugar has increased on shelves. As more studies and research show how excess sodium can be bad for consumers, the salt in packaged foods dropped 12% between 2000 and 2014.
Policymakers and industry leaders agree reducing salt and sugar is one of the top issues facing the food industry. The average per-capita daily sodium consumption in the U.S. is approximately 3,400 milligrams, or almost 50% more than the recommended level. In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration published draft voluntary targets to limit sodium consumption to 3,000 mg daily by 2018 and 2,300 mg daily by 2026. The most recent Dietary Guidelines recommend less than 2,300 mg daily, which is about 1 teaspoon.
Many consumers have consciously reduced their sodium intake by checking labels, not adding salt at the table and limiting salty snacks. General Mills is far from alone in its pursuit to adjust to these consumer demands. Manufacturers including Nestlé, Campbell, Unilever, PepsiCo, Mars and others have responded to the trend by reformulating recipes and coming up with innovative ways to cut back on sodium in their products.
As more companies succeed in sodium reduction efforts — and as consumers respond by choosing their products over those that still contain higher levels — there could be longer-term decreases in U.S. salt consumption. This could be a win for the FDA's voluntary sodium reduction guidelines, once they're adopted by enough manufacturers to make a measurable difference to consumers' dietary habits and health.