HEALTH & WELLNESS: Manufacturers Lower Salt, Sugar in Iconic Products

As shoppers increasingly demand better-for-you products from consumer packaged goods companies, major manufacturers, among them General Mills, Sara Lee and Campbell, have been stepping up to the plate by reformulating familiar foods to offer enhanced health benefits.

Last month, for instance, Minneapolis-based General Mills said it would reduce the amount of sugar in the cereal brands it advertises to children under the age of 12 to single grams per serving. Among the company’s 10 cereals geared to kids are Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, Reese’s Puffs, Cookie Crisp, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Frosted Cheerios and Trix.

This undertaking has no specific timeline, however, although, in furtherance of its ultimate goal, the company did lower the sugar per serving in the targeted cereals to 11 grams from 12 grams by the end of December, and plans to have the revamped products on shelves this spring. “We’re going to continue to make reductions in a series of step changes,” explained Adrienne Daniels, marketing manager, Big G Cereals of General Mills. “It’s challenging, and it will take a bit of time. But we are confident — and committed to the goal.”

Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, supported the move and urged other cereal makers to follow suit. “General Mills — which has included whole grains in all its cereals — is taking another important step in the right direction by pledging to cut the sugar in the cereals it advertises to children,” she noted. “As sugary cereal is one of the top products marketed to children, we hope the company swiftly implements these changes and that Kellogg, Post Foods, and other competitors quickly follow General Mills’ lead.”

Meanwhile, Downers Grove, Ill.-based Sara Lee Corp. revealed its commitment to lowering salt by an average of 20 percent over the next five years in its fresh bread, hot dogs, lunchmeat, breakfast foods and cooked sausage items. The initiative, which builds on earlier salt-reduction efforts, including the recent rollouts of reduced-sodium lunchmeats and lower-sodium breads, will encompass such iconic company brands as Jimmy Dean, Ball Park, Hillshire Farm and Sara Lee. According to the food-maker, these categories offer the greatest salt-reduction opportunities.

“This is in line with our broader wellness and nutrition strategy, which focuses on increasing the presence of positives, such as whole grains and lean protein,” noted CJ Fraleigh, EVP and CEO, Sara Lee North American Retail and Foodservice. “At the same time, we are reducing the amount of certain less desirable ingredients, such as trans fats and salt.”

Sara Lee has already removed 266,000 pounds of sodium from its products, which is the amount of sodium present in about 665,000 pounds of salt. The company says its salt-reduction initiative will take into account factors including food safety, consumer acceptance and cost to consumers, and that it will reassess its goals periodically.

The Campbell Soup Co., which has in recent years introduced lower-sodium versions of over 100 of its products, among them many Campbell’s soups, V8 juices, Prego sauces and Pepperidge Farm breads, has further lowered the sodium in the Campbell’s SpaghettiOs canned pasta line by as much as 35 percent, depending on the variety [m] an amount the Camden, N.J.-based company says is one-third lower than that of other canned pastas.

This latest major sodium reduction is the second for SpaghettiOs in two years, bringing all varieties of the product in line with USDA criteria regarding fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium in a main dish, and offering a significant level of at least two beneficial nutrients. The reformulated product will begin to appear on shelves in April, with the rest of the line’s items due to arrive in stores by July.

“Offering healthier versions of our products for kids is a major priority for Campbell,” said Sean Connolly, president, Campbell’s U.S. soups, sauces and beverages. “Changing the recipe of SpaghettiOs comes on the heels of reducing sodium in our condensed kids soups to healthy levels. It’s also consistent with our commitment to advertise only sound food choices to children.”