ConAgra Foods said it has achieved its goal of cutting sodium by 20 percent across its consumer products portfolio and will continue to use the same salt-reduction techniques to develop future products with less sodium than they might have contained otherwise.
The Omaha-based packaged foods manufacturer cut sodium in a dozen brands — by 35 percent in Fleischmann's margarine, for example; by 10 percent in Snack Pack pudding; and by 25 percent in Orville Redenbacher's popcorn.
“The reduction in sodium that ConAgra has accomplished is significant and gives consumers looking to change their sodium intake more choices,” said Mark Andon, ConAgra vice president of nutrition. ConAgra said the change cuts the equivalent of 11 million pounds of salt a year from its branded consumer foods.
ConAgra announced the goal in 2009, with a 2015 deadline. The company and other major packaged food companies have been slashing sodium in response to consumer concerns and government warnings about the dangers of high sodium consumption. High sodium consumption has been linked to high blood pressure, a factor in heart disease and stroke.
Kraft Foods said last year that it had reduced sodium by 10 percent over three years, cutting 13 million pounds out of the North American diet annually. Kraft Singles American cheese, for example, has 18 percent less sodium. Mondelez International, the Kraft snack foods spinoff that makes Oreo, Wheat Thins and Ritz, said that it will cut sodium and saturated fat by 10 percent by 2020 and that healthy snacks will make up a quarter of its revenue by then.
H.J. Heinz changed its ketchup recipe in 2010 for the first time in 40 years, cutting sodium by about 15 percent, and also sells a “no salt added” variety of its classic condiment.
ConAgra continued its changes even as new studies challenged current government guidelines for a low-sodium diet. An Institute of Medicine report published in May concluded that various demographic groups, representing more than half of Americans, no longer need to adhere to the institute's previous low recommendation of 1,500 milligrams per day of sodium and can strive for 2,300 milligrams per day like everyone else.
Still, the typical American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams per day, and the Institute of Medicine still recommends limiting consumption.
ConAgra will continue to use three sodium-reduction techniques, Andon said: Simply cutting back on salt; using sea salt, which has a saltier flavor for the amount of sodium; and using potassium chloride and other sodium-free seasonings.
All three techniques were used to lower the sodium content in Chef Boyardee canned pasta products by 35 percent, a challenge in a long-established food product, Andon said.
“Each step of the way in changing this recipe involved doing taste testing with consumers to make sure they liked the new recipes just as much as the old recipe,” Andon said.
Cutting sodium is no longer at the forefront of ConAgra's health and nutrition efforts, which are focused on three areas: portion control, dietary variety and overall heart health.
Citing research from the American Journal of Health Promotion, a peer-reviewed journal on the science of lifestyle change, ConAgra said that the national cost savings that would occur if overweight people cut 100 calories per day would be $58 billion per year — 10 times greater than the savings from reducing sodium by 30 percent.
“How much food we eat, the types of foods we eat and our intake of nutrients other than sodium are all important,” Andon said.