More taste, less salt
We are making our foods with less salt, and even more delicious.
How much is too much?
Most people agree that salt makes food taste better. It also plays an important role in preserving food. Small amounts of salt (sodium) in the diet are essential1, but too much can lead to raised blood pressure. Worldwide, more than one in five adults has blood pressure that is too high. This leads to increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a daily intake of no more than 5g of salt. But around the world the average person eats 9–12g a day, roughly twice the recommended amount. In Europe and North America, approximately 75% of our salt intake comes from processed foods, whereas in developing countries much of the salt is added during cooking or at the table. Lowering salt consumption to the recommended level could save an estimated 2.5 million lives each year.
Our Nutrition and Health Director of Foods, Karin van het Hof, gave a presentation at the 2017 International Conference on Nutrition on lowering salt through a multi-sectoral approach. She set out our belief that governments and NGOs have a role to play in raising awareness and helping to change consumer behaviour. As well as delivering great tasting products, food manufacturers must play their part in lowering salt levels. That’s why we have pledged (PDF | 241KB) that by 2020, 75% of our food will meet salt levels that enable intakes of 5g per day.
We reduce salt every time one of our existing products is renovated, and new products must meet the salt target to enable a salt intake of 5g per day. In 2017, we again received recognition for our approach, with academics highlighting Unilever as a positive example of a company working on salt reduction in a systematic and transparent way.
We improve our foods based on scientifically sound benchmarks (PDF | 900KB). We are reducing salt levels in our products in a number of ways. We’ve found that cutting salt and complementing that with aromas, spices and herbs can enhance the salty taste and flavour and make products more nutritious. And we sometimes use salt substitutes like potassium salt. Potassium occurs naturally in milk, fruit, vegetables and grains, and increased intakes of potassium are encouraged in dietary guidelines. In 2016, we published a review2 which found that replacing sodium with potassium would significantly increase potassium intakes towards recommended daily amounts, without exceeding safety guidelines. To support the safe usage of salt replacers such as potassium salt, it’s important that they are accepted by regulatory bodies.
In 2017, we made good progress in lowering salt across a broad range of products and markets. As our largest food brand, reformulating salt in Knorr products can have the biggest impact. In Turkey, for example, we relaunched our four key Knorr Meal Makers with up to 38% less sodium. In South America, we reduced salt by an average of 15% in 14 varieties of Knorr Quick Soups, and by an average 40% in Knorr reduced sodium cubes.
In India, over half of Knorr Cup-a-Soup variants now meet sodium benchmarks consistent with WHO recommended salt intakes. Across Europe, we renovated 38 recipes, reducing salt by an average 8%, removing 33 tonnes from consumers’ diets every year. Similarly, we relaunched dressings with lower salt levels. Hellmann’s mayonnaise in Brazil – a top seller in retail and food service – is now compliant with our Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS). In Pakistan, Knorr Ketchup was reformulated to meet WHO recommendations. And steady progress was made in India, where three key Kissan tomato-based sauces now meet our strictest sodium benchmarks.
We introduced new products that comply with our ‘5g of salt a day’ commitment and meet our HNS. For example, Knorr’s new Minestrone and Orange Vegetables soups in Israel, Ramadan soup in Turkey, and dehydrated tomato base in Mexico. In Brazil, Knorr’s new line of herbs and spice seasoning contain 25% less sodium, as well as no added monosodium glutamate, artificial colours or preservatives, while still delivering the great taste consumers expect from our products.
Unilever Food Solutions (UFS) is delighting consumers eating out of the home, with tasty dishes containing less salt. For example, in Russia, 77% of UFS products are now compliant with our HNS. In Turkey, we reduced salt in two popular dressings: Hellmann’s ketchup (by 37%) and Hellmann’s BBQ sauce (15%). And in India, we launched eight varieties of Knorr Chef’s Masala, which meet sodium HNS benchmarks.
Talking about salt
We are talking more about our salt reduction on pack. In particular, we’ve found that talking about lower salt, alongside better taste, is helping people to choose lower-salt foods. For example, Knorr in Brazil displays the claim ‘Same great Knorr taste with 25% less sodium’, and in Turkey, Unilever Food Solutions Meal Makers display a ‘no added salt’ logo.
In China, Unilever Food Solutions won a prestigious Effie award for a digital video, engagement and product sampling campaign – with 800,000 views on WeChat – encouraging chefs to cook with less salt and ‘Change for Better’.
These examples show that communicating effectively about our salt reduction efforts can encourage people to choose lower salt products, improving their health.
Multi-stakeholder approach for salt reduction
In addition to our salt reduction efforts, a supportive external environment is required to create consumer awareness, specific taste preferences and collaboration between the different players. Previous behaviour-change experiences have proven that a properly funded, multi-faceted approach is essential for success.
For this purpose, local summits have been organised to help governments develop policies for salt reduction that are based on solid science and global insights. These summits are part of our partnership with the International Union of Nutrition Sciences (IUNS).
In Sri Lanka (April 2016), we facilitated a conference to gain insights and identify key challenges in reducing salt in the diet of Sri Lankans. President of the Nutrition Society of Sri Lanka, Visakha Tillekeratne explained: “the purpose of this conference was to bring all key stakeholders together to develop a concerted effort to reducing salt from the Sri Lankan diet. We are encouraged by the fact that all stakeholders have responded in a positive manner.’’ After much deliberation, this resulted in an action plan being agreed by all those involved with clear areas of responsibility and avenues for progress.
In the Netherlands (March 2017), over 40 participants from industry, NGOs, government and academia came together, to discuss and define tangible actions to achieve a further reduction in daily salt intake, in the areas of product reformulation, consumer awareness and related external factors.
In Indonesia (July 2017), we hosted the first-ever private sector conference on preventing non-communicable diseases. Fifty-three participants attended, including delegates from the Ministry of Health, academia, professional organisations and industry, for the first time uniting advocacy efforts.
Dr V Prakash, Vice President of IUNS, is confident that with industry collaborations and consumer awareness, a lower salt consumption is possible. At the Indonesian summit, he highlighted: "I’m glad that Indonesia has taken a very good leadership and I wish that the Indonesian group of public, private and government, do very well in this area. Huge agenda. I congratulate all of you.”
Helping people understand how they can reduce salt
To help people calculate their salt intake, our easy-to-use, online Salt Calculator has been available in 12 countries since 2014. This helps people understand which foods contribute the most salt to their diet, encouraging them to make simple changes in their food choices. At the 2016 Thailand Congress of Nutrition, over 90% of the 750 nutritionists and dieticians attending agreed that this is a good tool for raising awareness of salt intake. In 2017, 4,200 consumers have used the tool in South Africa.
The salt calculator has also been a great instrument to raise awareness among governments and other stakeholders. Going forward, we will continue to support governments and institutions in educating people about ways to reduce salt through the salt calculator or other means.
1 Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation. WHO technical report series 916. Geneva 2003 and WHO Guideline: Sodium intake for adults and children. Geneva: World Health Organization; WHO 2012.
2 Dietary Impact of Adding Potassium Chloride to Foods as a Sodium Reduction Technique www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848703/