Savoury Snacks: Less Sodium, More Deliciousness

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

Salt, a common flavour enhancer, particularly in savoury snacks, contains the nutrient sodium. While sodium is important for good health, consuming too much of it has been linked to conditions such as cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Studies indicate that about 2.5 million deaths globally could be prevented each year if consumers limit salt intake to recommended levels. Kerry Taste and Nutrition (APMEA) weighs in on the key to successful reformulation in creating healthier snacks for a market where taste is a top purchase driver.


The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends consuming no more than 5 g of salt a day (2,000 mg sodium). Consumers in the Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA) region are consuming well above this recommendation, with an average daily intake of 8 to 9 g* salt, or the equivalent of 3,200 to 3,600 mg sodium. WHO member states have pledged to reduce the global population intake of salt by a relative 30 percent by 2025.

Regulatory authorities across the globe are joining the charge, establishing sodium limits in food or requiring front-of-pack labelling for sodium. Saudi Arabia for instance established sodium limits of no more than 500 mg per 100 g for standard potato crisps in 2019. Since 2013, South Africa’s sodium limit mandate has been capped at 550 mg per 100 g for standard potato crisps and 700 mg per 100 g for other savoury snacks. Savoury snacks include potato snacks, corn puffs, popcorn, tortilla chips, nuts and seeds, and other savoury chips.

In APAC however, front-of-pack labelling is a more common measure aimed to help consumers make informed choices when it comes to healthier, low sodium snacks. These include GDA labelling for snacks in Thailand and colour coding labelling in Sri Lanka. Countries like Singapore, Brunei, Thailand and China have introduced a “healthier choice” logo scheme for snack categories where sodium criteria is generally set at no more than 500 mg per 100 g. In addition, sodium taxes were also proposed in the Philippines and Thailand, but developments are at initial stages.

As regulations vary across countries, there is no “one formulation” or “one packaging” that fits all. Kerry’s role is to support any policy intervention that is developed holistically across sectors, grounded in science, and set within a realistic timeframe.


Health, Taste & Innovation Drive The Snacks Category

Today’s consumers are better-informed, more health-conscious and pro-active about their diets, and understand the health risks associated with too much sodium. They believe that eating well means living well. They want to know what goes into their food and seek transparency through ingredient labels.

Adding to this consumer preference is rising demand for a multi-sensory snacking experience, which including the desire for taste and flavours inspired by different cultures and cuisines. The pervasiveness of social media has also driven interest in visually appealing snacks and formats. From China to Southeast Asia, we continue to see locally inspired concepts, particularly by dishes in the foodservice channel, and in the wake of COVID-19, the growing popularity of comfort food and a higher focus on snacks with added immunity support benefits. What this means is that a certain category of snacks will potentially evolve to be regarded as superfoods, which contain more functional ingredients to support health.

According to an industry focus study, when it comes to snacking behaviour in APAC, 56 percent of consumers snack for enjoyment, followed by 39% who snack to boost their energy*. Underpinning that is primary consumer research indicating that taste is the number one consideration driving preference and purchase in the snacks category. In short, consumers are receptive to snacks that are innovative, healthier and low in sodium as long as there is no compromise on taste.


Challenges In Sodium Reduction

Reformulating snacks to reduce sodium can be challenging as salt plays a key role in enhancing the overall flavour while delivering umami mouthfeel and fullness in taste which consumers crave. When sodium is reduced, complexity of flavours may be compromised and need to be built back for full-flavoured snacks.

Cost is another challenge as salt is a relatively cheap commodity, and snack manufacturers are looking for cost-effective solutions to minimise sodium while retaining taste.

Potassium Chloride (KCl) is a common solution for sodium replacement, however, the resulting bitterness requires masking, and the increased saltiness must be rebalanced to meet consumers’ expectations. Often, premium products do not use potassium chloride but instead use sodium enhancers from various sources to replace salt. However, these can only reduce sodium up to 20 to 30 percent in different applications.

Reformulation becomes even more challenging when the sodium reduction required is greater than 25 percent to meet governmental guidelines and limits. It is almost impossible to replace salt completely without impacting taste. That said, a 45 to 50 percent sodium reduction can be achieved through a combination of flavours and potassium chloride.


Key To Successful Reformulation

Adopting a holistic approach, evaluating the entire ingredient build of the product, and rebalancing overall flavour in a cost-effective manner is the way forward.  Overall, the success of taste modulator technology, masking systems and texture solutions have met the taste challenges arising from developing products that are healthier and nutritious while meeting clean label demands. One example is Kerry’s TasteSense salt solutions, which is driven by biotechnology to reduce sodium without short-changing on taste and achieve that cost effectively. A combination of taste technology and incremental reduction of sodium levels through government initiatives may prove successful at improving consumer health in the APAC region.

Euromonitor research shows that the APAC snacks industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6.6 percent from 2020 to 2023. As consumers are snacking more than ever before, addressing their healthy snacking needs of will both bolster the growth of the industry and open new exciting opportunities for the future of savoury snacks.



*Source: YouGov Industry Focus Study on Snacking Behaviour among APAC Consumers, 7 million consumers in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam & Taiwan, 2019

Contributed by Dr. Um Ki Won, PhD, R&D Vice President of Taste, Kerry APMEA; Dr. Aoife Marie Murphy, PhD, Nutrition Scientist at Kerry Taste & Nutrition; Lee Yein Lam SEA Regulatory Lead; Olive Bai, Marketing Manager, Savoury Snacks EUM; Ming Rodrigues, Digital Content Manager, Kerry APMEA.


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