General Mills Tuesday said it’s made major progress on its long-term goal of sodium reduction, cutting salt by 20 percent in seven of 10 key U.S. product categories.
The Golden Valley-based packaged food company did best in savory snacks, cutting sodium by 35 percent from 2008 to 2015. It was weakest in cereal, reducing salt by 18 percent.
Two other categories didn’t meet Mills’ 20 percent goal: soup and Mexican dinners (both had 19 percent reductions). Salt was cut respectively by 29 percent, 24 percent and 21 percent in frozen pizza, baking mixes and dinner mixes.
“We are really proud of the progress we’ve made,” said Maha Tahiri, General Mills’ chief health and wellness officer.
General Mills publicly stated in 2010 that it planned to reduce sodium by 20 percent by 2015, using 2008 as its baseline year. The effort has encompassed 350 products, which together constitute one-third of the company’s U.S. retail sales volume.
Under pressure from consumers and health advocates, packaged food companies in recent years have been reducing salt, sugar and fat. Reformulating products isn’t easy, and can take months or even years to accomplish. If ingredient tinkering alters a product’s taste — the main driver of food purchases — consumers could turn away.
“Health improvements are only successful if they are successful with our consumers,” Tahiri said.
To mask the reduction of salt, General Mills added spices to some products and moved sodium around in others.
For instance, in Chex cereal, while salt was reduced, the salt within was essentially moved to the surface so that it could make an immediate impact on taste.