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Impact of sodium regulations on growing industry
Saturday, 18 April, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Dr Um Ki Won and Dr Aoife Marie Murphy
Salt is commonly used to enhance flavour in many of the foods we eat, particularly in the savoury snacks category. Salt contains the nutrient sodium, which is essential for human health, however excessive sodium intake is associated with high blood pressure and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally. Evidence shows that reducing dietary sodium intake significantly reduces this risk. An estimated 2.5 million deaths could be prevented each year if global salt consumption is reduced to the recommended level.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends consuming no more than 5g of salt a day (2,000mg sodium). Consumers in the Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA) region are consuming well above the recommended limits, with an average daily intake of 8-9g* salt, or the equivalent of 3,200-3,600mg sodium. WHO member states have pledged to reduce the global population intake of salt by a relative 30% by 2025.
Governments across APMEA are taking steps to reduce the levels of sodium in the populations’ diet. Countries such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have introduced guidelines on sodium thresholds for various categories of savoury snacks like potato chips and corn puffs. Many countries, including India, are currently in discussions to implement front-of-pack labelling systems which highlight products that are high in salt to the consumer.

*Draft submission announced/to be announced

Today, consumers are becoming more health-conscious and pro-active about their diets, and are more aware of the health risks associated with too much sodium. They want snacks that are low in sodium but without compromising on taste. Primary consumer research indicates that taste is the number one consideration driving preference and purchase in the snacks category. 

The Indian Context
According to the 2018 Mintel Report Attitudes to Snacking - Indian Consumer, 60% of Indian consumers snack at least twice a day. This is further substantiated by a leading FMCG report  that indicates snacking peaks around midday. According to the report, eating to relieve stress is the primary reason for snacking. With growing affluence and education in India, more consumers expressed an interest in healthier snacking. 
According to a paper published in The Lancet in 2018, there were over 54 million reported cases of heart disease, which is the cause of 1 in 3 deaths in India. A related study published in the Indian Heart Journal in 2019 concluded that almost 1 in 3 adults in India is affected by hypertension, of which sodium is a major contributor. 

In view of this, the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), has adopted a two-pronged approach to encourage healthier eating. First, the “Eat Right India” campaign was launched, which included celebrity endorsements, to drive consumer awareness of the health risks of a diet high in fat, salt, and sugar. Secondly, the FSSAI is proposing more stringent regulations on sodium reduction and front-of-pack labelling. Many companies have already committed to reducing salt, fat and sugar in their products, with some companies recently launching new formats and products that are trans-fat free.

Challenges in Sodium Reduction for Snacks
Reformulating snacks to reduce sodium can be challenging as salt plays a key role in enhancing the overall flavour while delivering umami mouthfeel and fullness in taste which consumers crave. Cost is another challenge as salt is a relatively cheap commodity, thus snack manufacturers are looking for cost-effective solutions to sodium reduction without compromising on taste. 
Reformulation Solutions for Consumer-Preferred Savoury Snacks 
Potassium Chloride (KCl) is a common solution for sodium replacement, however, there is often a resulting bitterness, which needs to be masked, and an increased saltiness, which needs to be rebalanced to meet consumers’ expectations. Often, premium products do not use potassium chloride but instead use sodium enhancers from various sources to replace salt, which can only reduce sodium up to 20-30% in different applications. 

Hence, reformulation becomes even more challenging when the sodium reduction required is greater than 25% to meet governmental guidelines and limits. It is almost impossible to replace salt completely without impacting taste. That said, a 45%-50% sodium reduction can be achieved through a combination of flavours and potassium chloride. 

The key to successful reformulation is to take a holistic approach, evaluating the entire ingredient build of the product, and rebalancing overall flavour in a cost-effective manner. 

 A Promising future for Savoury Snacks
Since the 1990s, Europe has been successful in sodium reduction efforts, which involved a gradual decrease in salt levels across food categories. The sodium reduction by stealth has been effective as consumers become less sensitive to gradual changes in taste. 
Nevertheless, the success of taste modulator technology, masking systems and texture solutions have met the taste challenges arising from nutritionally optimising products and cleaner labels have been addressed. A combination of taste technology and gradual reduction of sodium levels through government initiatives may also be successful at improving the health of consumers in the APMEA region.

The savoury snacks category, which is one of the fastest growing categories in India, is valued at EUR 4.17 billion and projected to grow at 15% CAGR by 2022, according to Euromonitor. The Southwest Asia region has one of the highest CAGR% at 15.7% and 11% for value and volume, respectively, which is higher than APMEA’s average at 8.1% and 4.5%. 

The future is bright for the snacks industry, as consumers are snacking more now than ever before, resulting in double-digit growth across countries. Addressing the healthy snacking needs of consumers will help further the growth of the industry and open new exciting opportunities in the future.

(Dr Um Ki Won is R&D VP of Taste, Kerry APMEA and Dr Aoife Marie Murphy is a nutrition scientist at Kerry Taste & Nutrition.They can be reached at

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