In recent days, two very different companies made public announcements about changes to the health profile of their food products. General Mills, Inc., the nation’s largest grain-based foods company, said it has reformulated 68% of its product line since 2005 to make a range of nutritional enhancements from adding whole grains, fiber or calcium to cutting back on sugar, sodium, calories or trans fat. In the past year alone, General Mills made changes to about 16% of its products.
Also in recent days, Boston Market pledged a 20% reduction of the sodium content of its signature items by 2014. The company also removed salt shakers from restaurant tables (they will be available at condiment stations).
Over the last several years, many food companies have sought to gain media attention and positive consumer reactions by describing substantive steps they have taken to make products healthier. This approach flies in the face of traditional thinking that consumers will interpret moves to improve nutrition as moves that automatically affect taste.
While it’s fair to wonder whether all the publicized moves truly represent meaningful enhancements rather than hype, it’s also fair to judge a double-digit percentage cut in sodium as more substantive than a move that replaces HFCS with sugar. In the latest storm in which all wheat-based foods are under attack as unhealthy, it’s important to remain focused on the real nutritional enhancements being made in competitive food categories. Baking companies must not fall behind in this steady progression.