The average American consumes 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium every single day. These levels are nearly 50% higher than the 2,300 mg limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both children and adults mainly follow a similar trend because the majority of sodium consumed comes from prepared and processed foods rather than a dash of kosher salt to make your homemade meals pop! Excessive amounts of sodium can increase blood pressure, which is a primary risk factor for heart disease. Reducing sodium intake is seen as a straightforward way to prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.
Unfortunately, "simple" doesn't always mean "easy." To prevent cardiovascular disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended two-year and ten-year voluntary targets to reduce sodium levels in the processed foods we consume. Despite this recommendation, Congress responded by temporarily blocking the (FDA) from implementing the plan - citing the exponentially high cost of conversion over ten years.
We don't know when Congress will change their mind, so in the interim, let's understand how companies can approach the development of a sodium reduction program in six simple steps:
STEP 1 - Review Consumer Insights and Feedback for Product Categories
First, take a look at consumer insights and feedback to understand what people like about a particular flavor profile within a specific product line. Flavor can account for the primary source of hesitation when it comes to reducing sodium in products. Altering a product's taste too much can negatively impact the bottom line.
Additionally, consider the sales data for products and understand that changes to a higher volume product come with higher risks if formulations bring too much change.
STEP 2: Identify Formulas with the Highest Usage and Percentage of Salt/Sodium
Second, understand what formulas have the highest usage and percentage of sodium. It is essential to factor in not all sodium is created equally, and not all sodium comes from salt itself. It can come from other chemicals like potassium, sorbates, etc.
STEP 3: Identify Ingredients that Contribute to High Sodium Content (Differentiating Between Natural vs. Added)
Third, identify ingredients that contribute to the highest amount of sodium. To do this, you'll need to understand the difference between natural versus artificial flavors in the formulations. These can often mimic the taste of salt or contribute to more flavor characteristics.
STEP 4: Evaluate Chemical, Physical, and Sensorial Attributes
Fourth, you'll want to evaluate the chemical, physical, and sensory attributes of the product to decide where and how products can create consumer risk. Profile existing formulations and determine the risk of modifying the sodium profile in specific formulas.
STEP 5: Develop a Risk-Based Development and Consumer Testing/Qualification Plan
Fifth, test to determine whether a dramatic change in the amount of sodium used in a given formulation will have noticeable impacts on customer preference. If customers notice the difference in taste, what impact will that have on the overall sale of the product? What verbal feedback do focus groups provide, and could there be social implications upon your brand related to a decrease in saltiness?
STEP 6: Create a Roadmap for Formula Transformation
In the final step, create a multi-year roadmap for formula transformations. For example, you may have a product with a formula of 1,000 mg of sodium, and over time, the roadmap will reduce that level 500 mg of sodium in three years. The roadmap will help gradually reduce sodium over a given period, and the business can respond if sales begin to drop.
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