Smithfield Foods Inc. will reduce sodium and sugar by 10% in all of its products by 2025, while also pursuing clean labels across its portfolio, the pork producer announced. The company, known for its Smithfield, Eckrich and Nathan's Famous brands, framed these moves as part of a new health and wellness pillar of its wider sustainability goals, which aim to appeal to shifting consumer preferences for healthier products.
To hit its target, Smithfield plans to reformulate its products while aiming to preserve taste, safety and quality. The company said it would shorten ingredient statements "where appropriate" and get to cleaner labeling of all of its products by 2025.
The company is following the lead of other food manufacturers that are moving toward cleaner labels and lower salt and sugar content in response to consumers' heightened health concerns, which have only intensified during the pandemic. Smithfield makes the clean-label shift after a tumultuous year that included COVID-19 outbreaks at its meat processing plants, a second-quarter $72 million financial loss, a shakeup in top leadership and growing competition for consumers' protein dollars from plant-based meats.
As Dennis Organ takes the leadership reins as CEO at Smithfield, the company' first moves in 2021 show a ramp up of its response to wider trends reshaping the food and protein market, including transparency and sustainability.
Smithfield took some of its first steps here in 2016, with the introduction of an online glossary of more than 100 ingredients found in its products. It joined other meat product manufacturers, including Tyson and Kraft Heinz, in embracing the “no nitrates added” label for many of its products.
Smithfield has also swapped out conventional ingredients such as lactates, nitrites and erythorbates for natural ones, including vinegar, celery juice and cherry powder. Some of the products in the company's current U.S. portfolio also already boast no artificial ingredients, nitrates, added nitrites, preservatives or MSG.
The sodium and sugar reductions fit into this cleaner label effort. These two ingredients have been a long-time target of regulators and health advocates. High-salt diets have been blamed for heart disease and high blood pressure, while excess sugar consumption has been tied to obesity and even cancer. In 2016, the USDA began requiring food manufacturers to label products with detailed information about sugar content. That year, large CPGs such as Mars announced plans to reduce sodium and sugar content in their products.
These issues are also top of mind for consumers, and they are willing to reward manufacturers who address them. When Nestlé announced in 2016 it would reduce the salt content across its portfolio, it cited an internal consumer survey showing 15% of U.S. adults would be more likely to buy its products because of the move. And with its recent announcement, Smithfield would be among the first major meat producers to make such a pledge.
According to Smithfield's 2019 Sustainability Report, it has 80 all-natural products across its international product portfolio. The company noted the use of antibiotics in its meats has also been trending downward over the long term. A recent survey from the International Food Information Council found that "no antibiotics" and "natural" were tied as the most important meat label claims to consumers.
Smithfield has also responded to consumers' hunt for healthier, more natural protein options. In 2019, the company introduced its plant-based Pure Farmland brand. The eight products under this line are gluten-free, dairy-free and made with soy protein, and packaged in recyclable containers. Smithfield's move into plant-based meats followed similar ones from competitors Tyson, Perdue and Nestlé.
Taken together, these moves could help Smithfield leave behind a rocky year and clinch consumers’ trust as a producer of healthy, sustainable foods. And making this salt and sugar reduction pledge straight out of the gate will also help it stand out from its competitors in the fight for consumers' protein dollars.