Consumers are interested in healthy eating more than ever, and Mintel’s  research reveals that approximately half (52 percent) of American adults are currently watching their diet.
And while 60 percent report dieting because they want to lose weight, some 15 percent of dieters claim to be doing so in part because of concerns about salt intake.
More than four in 10 (44 percent) U.S. consumers claim they always or usually consult the Nutrition Facts Panel (NFP) and/or ingredient list to assess sodium levels when considering a food purchase.
By contrast, 51 percent always or usually look at fat content, while 47 percent inspect sugar levels, and 49 percent examine calorie counts always or usually when shopping.
“The relatively high incidence of dieting in the U.S. is one key factor driving demand for low-sodium products,” says Molly Maier, senior health and wellness analyst at Mintel. “Our findings indicate that fat and calorie counts are more likely than sodium to influence purchase. Thus, companies may be able to maximize the appeal of low-sodium foods by also showing, where appropriate, that they are low in fat and calories.”
When it comes to sodium, nearly two thirds (62 percent) of Americans believe that manufacturers are responsible for disclosing how much sodium is in their products, whereas just 35 percent feel the government is responsible for such disclosures. Eighteen percent see this as the responsibility of retailers.
Despite an interest in disclosures on the part of manufacturers, less than half (46 percent) feel that manufacturers should implement sodium restrictions, and an even smaller share (34 percent) feel the government should do so.
Customers want to choose for themselves how much sodium they consume and they generally want to avoid regulation that will limit their food options.
More than half (59 percent) of respondents always or usually limit salt consumption when at home, while 44 percent always or usually do so when dining at a restaurant.
“This indicates that while restaurant chains can often benefit from sodium reduction initiatives, they are especially important for manufacturers of packaged foods, including those that make sauces, condiments, and other flavor enhancers often used to prepare meals at home,” Maier says.
Women (80 percent) are more likely than men (67 percent) to limit the amount of salt they cook with when dining at home. Hence, retail signage and other materials designed to promote low-sodium meal elements such as reduced-sodium bottled sauces should often be directed at women, especially mothers and homemakers.
Women (25 percent) are more likely than men (18 percent) to state they always consult sodium levels when shopping for foods. Similarly, while 22 percent of all respondents always assess sodium levels when shopping for foods, 32 percent of 55-64-year-olds report doing so, along with 33 percent of those aged 65+. Thus, foods designed in large part for women and/or mature consumers are among those that should be considered for reformulation.
Meanwhile, there appears to be substantial demand for reduced-sodium packaged foods and restaurant items. When it comes to low salt/sodium foods, 59 percent indicated that they have tried and would use such foods again in the future. An additional 16 percent have not tried reduced-sodium packaged foods, but would be interested in trying them.