CHICAGO — A product’s sales volume will affect how much emphasis Kraft Foods Inc. places on reducing the product’s sodium content, said Richard Black, vice-president of global nutrition. For example, reducing sodium content by 15 mg in a product with 100 million lbs in annual sales would have more overall impact than by reducing sodium content by 200 mg in a product with 3 million lbs in annual sales.
Mr. Black spoke July 19 in a session titled “Sodium in Foods, Striking the Right Balance” at I.F.T. 10, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition in Chicago. The session drew about 350 people with some sitting against the wall because all the chairs were taken.
Kraft Foods, Northfield, Ill., has a goal over the next two years of reducing sodium content by an average of 10% across its entire portfolio. Because of the company’s emphasis on sales volume, some foods will experience a greater reduction than 10%.
Kraft Foods will seek cost reduction in other areas to balance out increasing ingredient costs associated with sodium reduction, Mr. Black said. Salt may cost 9c to 12c a lb while ingredients that replace salt are higher. A Kraft salt replacer costs about $1.20 per lb, Mr. Black said.
“Now you see the challenge we have,” he said.
Mr. Black gave hypothetical examples about the potential costs of reducing sodium in Kraft products. Using figures that were for illustrative purposes and not based on actual data, Mr. Black said a 25% sodium reduction in Ritz crackers hypothetically may require additional ingredient costs of about $1 million per year. Additional charges of about $300,000 per year hypothetically could come in such areas as product development, warehouse and labeling.
Since Kraft has about 3,500 products, sodium-reduction costs hypothetically could exceed $1 billion per year, Mr. Black said.
“This is not an excuse,” he said. “We have to be able to solve this problem. We will be held accountable. We should be held accountable.”
Sodium reduction will present different problems for different products. If sodium content is reduced by 50% in ranch dressing, consumers may not detect it as less salty, Mr. Black said.
“But it tastes like Miracle Whip,” he said. “It’s not always a salty thing you’re doing.”
Formulators must consider texture and yield when reducing sodium content.
“If you reduce sodium in a hot dog too far, it literally turns to mush,” Mr. Black said. “There’s a level below which you cannot go and still have a hot dog. The same is true for cheese.”
Sodium also is in alkalizing agents in cocoa, he said. Whenever Kraft adds cocoa to its cookies, the company needs to work with its cocoa suppliers to reduce sodium content in cocoa ahead of time, or before Kraft starts working with it.