Pass the salt: the companies working on new ways to reduce sodium in our food

Pass the salt: the companies working on new ways to reduce sodium in our food

By
Louise Burfitt
May 18, 2021

🧂 What is it?

  • We’ve all been there: the bowl of chips in front of us just keeps dwindling. Too salty, too more-ish, too delicious...
  • The simple fact of the matter is this: salt makes stuff taste good. Like really good. Part of this is simply evolutionary. Human bodies need salt for survival, and the two elements that make it up - sodium and chloride - are difficult to find in nature.
  • It also makes food taste more like itself, to quote salt-loving chef Samin Nosrat. Good ol’ NaCl enhances positive flavours in food, like umami and sweet, and helps to lessen bitter tastes. So there’s more than one reason why we can’t get enough of the stuff..

🤔 Tell me more…

  • But, you guessed it, there’s a catch. Like many of the things that taste delicious, salt in large quantities is not good for us. The WHO recommends eating just 5g, or one teaspoon, daily.
  • Yet the vast majority of us are consuming way more than that. Most of the salt we consume is hidden in processed foods - about 75% of it, in fact.
  • As a result, some companies are hunting for alternatives. How can we make products taste good, in the way we’re used to, without the health disadvantages? Can salt be reformulated to make it less bad for us, without reducing the shelf life of foods? A handful of startups are searching for answers to these difficult questions.

💡How did it start? 

  • The first preserved records of salt in food date back to around 2700 BC. But salt turned controversial in the 20th century after medical research linked excess consumption to poor health and diseases like heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure.
  • Lowering salt in diets has thus been a major public health focus for some time, but recent research by Queen Mary University of London found a marked slowing of progress when it comes to salt reduction plans.

🤷‍♂️ Why?

  • Shunning sugar is often in the headlines these days, salt replacement less so. And as a result, consumption of sodium has risen dramatically in western countries. Overindulging on the salty stuff is linked to 2.3 million deaths every year. So lower-salt choices for consumers are desperately needed. If consumers reduced their salt intake by 2g a day, strokes and heart attacks would decrease dramatically. 
  • Lowering levels of sodium is a top priority for brands and startups wanting to present their products as healthy or ‘clean’. Your product might be made with the latest tech, but if it’s sky-high in salt, it won’t go down well with health-conscious consumers. 
  • Governments are also demanding more from food and CPG manufacturers, following official guidance from the WHO on reducing salt intake.
  • The growing popularity of processed and ultra-processed food is another driver of the salt substitutes trend. Chips, crackers, fries and the like are becoming a more common sight across the world, and not just in western countries, which is leading to a higher demand globally for salt replacements or reduction tech that can be deployed in those tasty savoury snacks. 

🔍 How is it shaping up?

  • Some companies are toying with ways to alter the structure of salt (a bit like DouxMatok has done for sugar), so that a little goes a long way. Tate & Lyle have developed Soda-Lo, a patented technology that turns standard sea salt crystals into free-flowing crystalline microspheres. These microspheres are hollow and much smaller than ordinary salt, allowing for a similar taste at lower sodium consumption.
  • Similarly, startup MicroSalt have developed a product that uses real salt, but at a size 100 times smaller than normal crystals. The company says its ideal uses are in dry surface applications, like chips, nuts, crackers and popcorn.  
  • Low-sodium CPG products are also a common sight, building on the trend for ‘permissible indulgence’ and better-for-you convenience foods. A Gallup survey found that 42% of adults are trying to avoid salt. In line with this desire, UK brand Mindful Snacker launched their low-salt crisps this year, and have been described as a game-changer on the snacking landscape. Performance Kitchen, meanwhile, are limiting salt in their products by focusing on other flavours, like pepper and cumin.
  • Another area where sodium replacements are gaining traction is in the plant-based meat sector.  Studies have found that plant-based meat substitutes tend to contain higher levels of salt than their traditional meat counterparts. In one study, more than a quarter of vegetarian meat products tested were found to exceed maximum recommended sodium levels. Salt of the Earth’s alternative seasoning is aimed at plant-based producers for this reason, and they’re already supplying a manufacturer in South Africa. The company also sells its own low-sodium salt.
  • Big food corporations are also slashing salt in their products to comply with approaching new regulations in many countries. Nestlé and Kelloggs are just two of the big players who have pledged to limit salt in their products to comply with WHO guidance. International flavour makers are also innovating with new salt strategies and substitutes: check out efforts by Firmenich and Givaudan, for starters.
  • Lastly, big-name companies including Mars, H.J. Heinz Co., Kraft Foods Inc. and Starbucks have all publicly committed to reducing salt in their product lines in recent years. 
View the database of 11 Salt Reduction companies here

👀 Who? (11 companies in this space)

📈 The figures

Source: PhytoCo

🧂 Case study: PhytoCo

  • Seoul-based food tech startup PhytoCo (Phyto Corporation, to use its full name) makes PhytoSalt, a reformulated version of salt that’s 20% lower in sodium than your average table salt.
  • It’s also free from harmful microplastics and 100% plant-based. 
  • The South Korean company’s salt replacement is made from a pretty handy plant, Salicornia (also known as samphire), which naturally accumulates salt as it grows in coastal or saltwater habitats. 
  • PhytoSalt is the first ever plant-based salt - and it provides the same taste, texture and functional uses as ordinary salt. But of course it’s way better for human health. 
  • This makes it an excellent substitute for table salt in CPG products like chips and crackers, but it can also be included in sports drinks due to its high levels of essential minerals. 
  • The salt substitute is also highly sustainable as Salicornia can be cultivated en masse using seawater agriculture, so is free from the environmental cons of traditional farming. 
  • Future plans? PhytoCo aims to launch more plant-based food products made using PhytoSalt. 

🚰 Case study: Iposol

  • IPOSOL is a UK-based company working on its own salt substitute - a liquid version! 
  • The product, of the same name, is made of one-third conventional sea salt and two-thirds tap water, which contains 28% salt and 9.8% sodium. It is produced in Denmark.
  • The company owners hope it can provide a low-sodium alternative to traditional dry salt. 
  • The major benefits of Iposol? Exactly the same taste as normal salt, with no chemical additives, and up to 62% less sodium.
  • And another potential pro for food manufacturers? There’s no need to tinker with their product specifications - 5g of dry salt can be replaced with 5ml of IPOSOL liquid salt. Simple! 
  • The salt substitute has already been successfully trialled in breadsticks, pizza, bacon and sausages. It’s also been shown to preserve the crispness of bread - an exciting development given salt’s role in prolonging the longevity of foods.
  • IPOSOL now plans to enter the Middle Eastern market, where high-salt diets are a particular issue.

👍The good

  • Salt reduction benefits both food producers and consumers. Shoppers are keen to reduce their salt intake, and salt reduction by manufacturers both offers customers what they want, and improves health outcomes. Win-win! 
  • Sea salt and microplastics are now inextricably linked, but innovations like PhytoSalt show ways forward to counter this worrying new trend.
  • As we’ve seen, sugar reduction tends to grab the headlines and has been a busy space for innovation in the past decade. Sodium reduction efforts, meanwhile, have languished on the sidelines – making the sector ripe for disruption.

👎 The bad

  • The fact of the matter is: reducing salt without compromising on flavour is really tricky. It’s nowhere near as simple as swapping out sugar for aspartame or stevia. And that might be why there’s so few operating in this segment at present.
  • Salt substitutes also have a bit of a marketing problem to solve, as consumers may not warm to the labels used to describe alt salt. Good news is that the FDA last year permitted one alt-salt brand’s request to use a more consumer-friendly name for their product. 
  • Then there’s customer hesitancy around removing salt and its effects on taste: in many minds, salt reduction automatically equals bland and boring. So those working on salt substitutes start out with a mountain to climb.

💡The bottom line

  • Today, our average salt consumption is 10 to 20 times that of our ancestors 5000 years ago. Something needs to give. 
  • Salt reduction efforts have slowed in recent years, as other health trends have grabbed the limelight, but the sector now seems to be picking up momentum again. Only time will tell as to how successful efforts will be to reduce salt in our food - in a way that won’t turn off consumers for good.
FoodHack Database

Become a member

to get unlimited access

  • Weekly Trend Reports | Access 60+ Reports
  • Startups & Investors Database | Browse 500+
  • FoodHack+ Insiders Community | Coming soon

🧂 What is it?

  • We’ve all been there: the bowl of chips in front of us just keeps dwindling. Too salty, too more-ish, too delicious...
  • The simple fact of the matter is this: salt makes stuff taste good. Like really good. Part of this is simply evolutionary. Human bodies need salt for survival, and the two elements that make it up - sodium and chloride - are difficult to find in nature.
  • It also makes food taste more like itself, to quote salt-loving chef Samin Nosrat. Good ol’ NaCl enhances positive flavours in food, like umami and sweet, and helps to lessen bitter tastes. So there’s more than one reason why we can’t get enough of the stuff..

🤔 Tell me more…

  • But, you guessed it, there’s a catch. Like many of the things that taste delicious, salt in large quantities is not good for us. The WHO recommends eating just 5g, or one teaspoon, daily.
  • Yet the vast majority of us are consuming way more than that. Most of the salt we consume is hidden in processed foods - about 75% of it, in fact.
  • As a result, some companies are hunting for alternatives. How can we make products taste good, in the way we’re used to, without the health disadvantages? Can salt be reformulated to make it less bad for us, without reducing the shelf life of foods? A handful of startups are searching for answers to these difficult questions.

💡How did it start? 

  • The first preserved records of salt in food date back to around 2700 BC. But salt turned controversial in the 20th century after medical research linked excess consumption to poor health and diseases like heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure.
  • Lowering salt in diets has thus been a major public health focus for some time, but recent research by Queen Mary University of London found a marked slowing of progress when it comes to salt reduction plans.

🤷‍♂️ Why?

  • Shunning sugar is often in the headlines these days, salt replacement less so. And as a result, consumption of sodium has risen dramatically in western countries. Overindulging on the salty stuff is linked to 2.3 million deaths every year. So lower-salt choices for consumers are desperately needed. If consumers reduced their salt intake by 2g a day, strokes and heart attacks would decrease dramatically. 
  • Lowering levels of sodium is a top priority for brands and startups wanting to present their products as healthy or ‘clean’. Your product might be made with the latest tech, but if it’s sky-high in salt, it won’t go down well with health-conscious consumers. 
  • Governments are also demanding more from food and CPG manufacturers, following official guidance from the WHO on reducing salt intake.
  • The growing popularity of processed and ultra-processed food is another driver of the salt substitutes trend. Chips, crackers, fries and the like are becoming a more common sight across the world, and not just in western countries, which is leading to a higher demand globally for salt replacements or reduction tech that can be deployed in those tasty savoury snacks. 

🔍 How is it shaping up?

  • Some companies are toying with ways to alter the structure of salt (a bit like DouxMatok has done for sugar), so that a little goes a long way. Tate & Lyle have developed Soda-Lo, a patented technology that turns standard sea salt crystals into free-flowing crystalline microspheres. These microspheres are hollow and much smaller than ordinary salt, allowing for a similar taste at lower sodium consumption.
  • Similarly, startup MicroSalt have developed a product that uses real salt, but at a size 100 times smaller than normal crystals. The company says its ideal uses are in dry surface applications, like chips, nuts, crackers and popcorn.  
  • Low-sodium CPG products are also a common sight, building on the trend for ‘permissible indulgence’ and better-for-you convenience foods. A Gallup survey found that 42% of adults are trying to avoid salt. In line with this desire, UK brand Mindful Snacker launched their low-salt crisps this year, and have been described as a game-changer on the snacking landscape. Performance Kitchen, meanwhile, are limiting salt in their products by focusing on other flavours, like pepper and cumin.
  • Another area where sodium replacements are gaining traction is in the plant-based meat sector.  Studies have found that plant-based meat substitutes tend to contain higher levels of salt than their traditional meat counterparts. In one study, more than a quarter of vegetarian meat products tested were found to exceed maximum recommended sodium levels. Salt of the Earth’s alternative seasoning is aimed at plant-based producers for this reason, and they’re already supplying a manufacturer in South Africa. The company also sells its own low-sodium salt.
  • Big food corporations are also slashing salt in their products to comply with approaching new regulations in many countries. Nestlé and Kelloggs are just two of the big players who have pledged to limit salt in their products to comply with WHO guidance. International flavour makers are also innovating with new salt strategies and substitutes: check out efforts by Firmenich and Givaudan, for starters.
  • Lastly, big-name companies including Mars, H.J. Heinz Co., Kraft Foods Inc. and Starbucks have all publicly committed to reducing salt in their product lines in recent years. 
View the database of 11 Salt Reduction companies here

👀 Who? (11 companies in this space)

📈 The figures

Source: PhytoCo

🧂 Case study: PhytoCo

  • Seoul-based food tech startup PhytoCo (Phyto Corporation, to use its full name) makes PhytoSalt, a reformulated version of salt that’s 20% lower in sodium than your average table salt.
  • It’s also free from harmful microplastics and 100% plant-based. 
  • The South Korean company’s salt replacement is made from a pretty handy plant, Salicornia (also known as samphire), which naturally accumulates salt as it grows in coastal or saltwater habitats. 
  • PhytoSalt is the first ever plant-based salt - and it provides the same taste, texture and functional uses as ordinary salt. But of course it’s way better for human health. 
  • This makes it an excellent substitute for table salt in CPG products like chips and crackers, but it can also be included in sports drinks due to its high levels of essential minerals. 
  • The salt substitute is also highly sustainable as Salicornia can be cultivated en masse using seawater agriculture, so is free from the environmental cons of traditional farming. 
  • Future plans? PhytoCo aims to launch more plant-based food products made using PhytoSalt. 

🚰 Case study: Iposol

  • IPOSOL is a UK-based company working on its own salt substitute - a liquid version! 
  • The product, of the same name, is made of one-third conventional sea salt and two-thirds tap water, which contains 28% salt and 9.8% sodium. It is produced in Denmark.
  • The company owners hope it can provide a low-sodium alternative to traditional dry salt. 
  • The major benefits of Iposol? Exactly the same taste as normal salt, with no chemical additives, and up to 62% less sodium.
  • And another potential pro for food manufacturers? There’s no need to tinker with their product specifications - 5g of dry salt can be replaced with 5ml of IPOSOL liquid salt. Simple! 
  • The salt substitute has already been successfully trialled in breadsticks, pizza, bacon and sausages. It’s also been shown to preserve the crispness of bread - an exciting development given salt’s role in prolonging the longevity of foods.
  • IPOSOL now plans to enter the Middle Eastern market, where high-salt diets are a particular issue.

👍The good

  • Salt reduction benefits both food producers and consumers. Shoppers are keen to reduce their salt intake, and salt reduction by manufacturers both offers customers what they want, and improves health outcomes. Win-win! 
  • Sea salt and microplastics are now inextricably linked, but innovations like PhytoSalt show ways forward to counter this worrying new trend.
  • As we’ve seen, sugar reduction tends to grab the headlines and has been a busy space for innovation in the past decade. Sodium reduction efforts, meanwhile, have languished on the sidelines – making the sector ripe for disruption.

👎 The bad

  • The fact of the matter is: reducing salt without compromising on flavour is really tricky. It’s nowhere near as simple as swapping out sugar for aspartame or stevia. And that might be why there’s so few operating in this segment at present.
  • Salt substitutes also have a bit of a marketing problem to solve, as consumers may not warm to the labels used to describe alt salt. Good news is that the FDA last year permitted one alt-salt brand’s request to use a more consumer-friendly name for their product. 
  • Then there’s customer hesitancy around removing salt and its effects on taste: in many minds, salt reduction automatically equals bland and boring. So those working on salt substitutes start out with a mountain to climb.

💡The bottom line

  • Today, our average salt consumption is 10 to 20 times that of our ancestors 5000 years ago. Something needs to give. 
  • Salt reduction efforts have slowed in recent years, as other health trends have grabbed the limelight, but the sector now seems to be picking up momentum again. Only time will tell as to how successful efforts will be to reduce salt in our food - in a way that won’t turn off consumers for good.

🧂 What is it?

  • We’ve all been there: the bowl of chips in front of us just keeps dwindling. Too salty, too more-ish, too delicious...
  • The simple fact of the matter is this: salt makes stuff taste good. Like really good. Part of this is simply evolutionary. Human bodies need salt for survival, and the two elements that make it up - sodium and chloride - are difficult to find in nature.
  • It also makes food taste more like itself, to quote salt-loving chef Samin Nosrat. Good ol’ NaCl enhances positive flavours in food, like umami and sweet, and helps to lessen bitter tastes. So there’s more than one reason why we can’t get enough of the stuff..

🤔 Tell me more…

  • But, you guessed it, there’s a catch. Like many of the things that taste delicious, salt in large quantities is not good for us. The WHO recommends eating just 5g, or one teaspoon, daily.
  • Yet the vast majority of us are consuming way more than that. Most of the salt we consume is hidden in processed foods - about 75% of it, in fact.
  • As a result, some companies are hunting for alternatives. How can we make products taste good, in the way we’re used to, without the health disadvantages? Can salt be reformulated to make it less bad for us, without reducing the shelf life of foods? A handful of startups are searching for answers to these difficult questions.

💡How did it start? 

  • The first preserved records of salt in food date back to around 2700 BC. But salt turned controversial in the 20th century after medical research linked excess consumption to poor health and diseases like heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure.
  • Lowering salt in diets has thus been a major public health focus for some time, but recent research by Queen Mary University of London found a marked slowing of progress when it comes to salt reduction plans.

🤷‍♂️ Why?

  • Shunning sugar is often in the headlines these days, salt replacement less so. And as a result, consumption of sodium has risen dramatically in western countries. Overindulging on the salty stuff is linked to 2.3 million deaths every year. So lower-salt choices for consumers are desperately needed. If consumers reduced their salt intake by 2g a day, strokes and heart attacks would decrease dramatically. 
  • Lowering levels of sodium is a top priority for brands and startups wanting to present their products as healthy or ‘clean’. Your product might be made with the latest tech, but if it’s sky-high in salt, it won’t go down well with health-conscious consumers. 
  • Governments are also demanding more from food and CPG manufacturers, following official guidance from the WHO on reducing salt intake.
  • The growing popularity of processed and ultra-processed food is another driver of the salt substitutes trend. Chips, crackers, fries and the like are becoming a more common sight across the world, and not just in western countries, which is leading to a higher demand globally for salt replacements or reduction tech that can be deployed in those tasty savoury snacks. 

🔍 How is it shaping up?

  • Some companies are toying with ways to alter the structure of salt (a bit like DouxMatok has done for sugar), so that a little goes a long way. Tate & Lyle have developed Soda-Lo, a patented technology that turns standard sea salt crystals into free-flowing crystalline microspheres. These microspheres are hollow and much smaller than ordinary salt, allowing for a similar taste at lower sodium consumption.
  • Similarly, startup MicroSalt have developed a product that uses real salt, but at a size 100 times smaller than normal crystals. The company says its ideal uses are in dry surface applications, like chips, nuts, crackers and popcorn.  
  • Low-sodium CPG products are also a common sight, building on the trend for ‘permissible indulgence’ and better-for-you convenience foods. A Gallup survey found that 42% of adults are trying to avoid salt. In line with this desire, UK brand Mindful Snacker launched their low-salt crisps this year, and have been described as a game-changer on the snacking landscape. Performance Kitchen, meanwhile, are limiting salt in their products by focusing on other flavours, like pepper and cumin.
  • Another area where sodium replacements are gaining traction is in the plant-based meat sector.  Studies have found that plant-based meat substitutes tend to contain higher levels of salt than their traditional meat counterparts. In one study, more than a quarter of vegetarian meat products tested were found to exceed maximum recommended sodium levels. Salt of the Earth’s alternative seasoning is aimed at plant-based producers for this reason, and they’re already supplying a manufacturer in South Africa. The company also sells its own low-sodium salt.
  • Big food corporations are also slashing salt in their products to comply with approaching new regulations in many countries. Nestlé and Kelloggs are just two of the big players who have pledged to limit salt in their products to comply with WHO guidance. International flavour makers are also innovating with new salt strategies and substitutes: check out efforts by Firmenich and Givaudan, for starters.
  • Lastly, big-name companies including Mars, H.J. Heinz Co., Kraft Foods Inc. and Starbucks have all publicly committed to reducing salt in their product lines in recent years. 
View the database of 11 Salt Reduction companies here

👀 Who? (11 companies in this space)

📈 The figures

Source: PhytoCo

🧂 Case study: PhytoCo

  • Seoul-based food tech startup PhytoCo (Phyto Corporation, to use its full name) makes PhytoSalt, a reformulated version of salt that’s 20% lower in sodium than your average table salt.
  • It’s also free from harmful microplastics and 100% plant-based. 
  • The South Korean company’s salt replacement is made from a pretty handy plant, Salicornia (also known as samphire), which naturally accumulates salt as it grows in coastal or saltwater habitats. 
  • PhytoSalt is the first ever plant-based salt - and it provides the same taste, texture and functional uses as ordinary salt. But of course it’s way better for human health. 
  • This makes it an excellent substitute for table salt in CPG products like chips and crackers, but it can also be included in sports drinks due to its high levels of essential minerals. 
  • The salt substitute is also highly sustainable as Salicornia can be cultivated en masse using seawater agriculture, so is free from the environmental cons of traditional farming. 
  • Future plans? PhytoCo aims to launch more plant-based food products made using PhytoSalt. 

🚰 Case study: Iposol

  • IPOSOL is a UK-based company working on its own salt substitute - a liquid version! 
  • The product, of the same name, is made of one-third conventional sea salt and two-thirds tap water, which contains 28% salt and 9.8% sodium. It is produced in Denmark.
  • The company owners hope it can provide a low-sodium alternative to traditional dry salt. 
  • The major benefits of Iposol? Exactly the same taste as normal salt, with no chemical additives, and up to 62% less sodium.
  • And another potential pro for food manufacturers? There’s no need to tinker with their product specifications - 5g of dry salt can be replaced with 5ml of IPOSOL liquid salt. Simple! 
  • The salt substitute has already been successfully trialled in breadsticks, pizza, bacon and sausages. It’s also been shown to preserve the crispness of bread - an exciting development given salt’s role in prolonging the longevity of foods.
  • IPOSOL now plans to enter the Middle Eastern market, where high-salt diets are a particular issue.

👍The good

  • Salt reduction benefits both food producers and consumers. Shoppers are keen to reduce their salt intake, and salt reduction by manufacturers both offers customers what they want, and improves health outcomes. Win-win! 
  • Sea salt and microplastics are now inextricably linked, but innovations like PhytoSalt show ways forward to counter this worrying new trend.
  • As we’ve seen, sugar reduction tends to grab the headlines and has been a busy space for innovation in the past decade. Sodium reduction efforts, meanwhile, have languished on the sidelines – making the sector ripe for disruption.

👎 The bad

  • The fact of the matter is: reducing salt without compromising on flavour is really tricky. It’s nowhere near as simple as swapping out sugar for aspartame or stevia. And that might be why there’s so few operating in this segment at present.
  • Salt substitutes also have a bit of a marketing problem to solve, as consumers may not warm to the labels used to describe alt salt. Good news is that the FDA last year permitted one alt-salt brand’s request to use a more consumer-friendly name for their product. 
  • Then there’s customer hesitancy around removing salt and its effects on taste: in many minds, salt reduction automatically equals bland and boring. So those working on salt substitutes start out with a mountain to climb.

💡The bottom line

  • Today, our average salt consumption is 10 to 20 times that of our ancestors 5000 years ago. Something needs to give. 
  • Salt reduction efforts have slowed in recent years, as other health trends have grabbed the limelight, but the sector now seems to be picking up momentum again. Only time will tell as to how successful efforts will be to reduce salt in our food - in a way that won’t turn off consumers for good.

🧂 What is it?

  • We’ve all been there: the bowl of chips in front of us just keeps dwindling. Too salty, too more-ish, too delicious...
  • The simple fact of the matter is this: salt makes stuff taste good. Like really good. Part of this is simply evolutionary. Human bodies need salt for survival, and the two elements that make it up - sodium and chloride - are difficult to find in nature.
  • It also makes food taste more like itself, to quote salt-loving chef Samin Nosrat. Good ol’ NaCl enhances positive flavours in food, like umami and sweet, and helps to lessen bitter tastes. So there’s more than one reason why we can’t get enough of the stuff..

🤔 Tell me more…

  • But, you guessed it, there’s a catch. Like many of the things that taste delicious, salt in large quantities is not good for us. The WHO recommends eating just 5g, or one teaspoon, daily.
  • Yet the vast majority of us are consuming way more than that. Most of the salt we consume is hidden in processed foods - about 75% of it, in fact.
  • As a result, some companies are hunting for alternatives. How can we make products taste good, in the way we’re used to, without the health disadvantages? Can salt be reformulated to make it less bad for us, without reducing the shelf life of foods? A handful of startups are searching for answers to these difficult questions.

💡How did it start? 

  • The first preserved records of salt in food date back to around 2700 BC. But salt turned controversial in the 20th century after medical research linked excess consumption to poor health and diseases like heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure.
  • Lowering salt in diets has thus been a major public health focus for some time, but recent research by Queen Mary University of London found a marked slowing of progress when it comes to salt reduction plans.

🤷‍♂️ Why?

  • Shunning sugar is often in the headlines these days, salt replacement less so. And as a result, consumption of sodium has risen dramatically in western countries. Overindulging on the salty stuff is linked to 2.3 million deaths every year. So lower-salt choices for consumers are desperately needed. If consumers reduced their salt intake by 2g a day, strokes and heart attacks would decrease dramatically. 
  • Lowering levels of sodium is a top priority for brands and startups wanting to present their products as healthy or ‘clean’. Your product might be made with the latest tech, but if it’s sky-high in salt, it won’t go down well with health-conscious consumers. 
  • Governments are also demanding more from food and CPG manufacturers, following official guidance from the WHO on reducing salt intake.
  • The growing popularity of processed and ultra-processed food is another driver of the salt substitutes trend. Chips, crackers, fries and the like are becoming a more common sight across the world, and not just in western countries, which is leading to a higher demand globally for salt replacements or reduction tech that can be deployed in those tasty savoury snacks. 

🔍 How is it shaping up?

  • Some companies are toying with ways to alter the structure of salt (a bit like DouxMatok has done for sugar), so that a little goes a long way. Tate & Lyle have developed Soda-Lo, a patented technology that turns standard sea salt crystals into free-flowing crystalline microspheres. These microspheres are hollow and much smaller than ordinary salt, allowing for a similar taste at lower sodium consumption.
  • Similarly, startup MicroSalt have developed a product that uses real salt, but at a size 100 times smaller than normal crystals. The company says its ideal uses are in dry surface applications, like chips, nuts, crackers and popcorn.  
  • Low-sodium CPG products are also a common sight, building on the trend for ‘permissible indulgence’ and better-for-you convenience foods. A Gallup survey found that 42% of adults are trying to avoid salt. In line with this desire, UK brand Mindful Snacker launched their low-salt crisps this year, and have been described as a game-changer on the snacking landscape. Performance Kitchen, meanwhile, are limiting salt in their products by focusing on other flavours, like pepper and cumin.
  • Another area where sodium replacements are gaining traction is in the plant-based meat sector.  Studies have found that plant-based meat substitutes tend to contain higher levels of salt than their traditional meat counterparts. In one study, more than a quarter of vegetarian meat products tested were found to exceed maximum recommended sodium levels. Salt of the Earth’s alternative seasoning is aimed at plant-based producers for this reason, and they’re already supplying a manufacturer in South Africa. The company also sells its own low-sodium salt.
  • Big food corporations are also slashing salt in their products to comply with approaching new regulations in many countries. Nestlé and Kelloggs are just two of the big players who have pledged to limit salt in their products to comply with WHO guidance. International flavour makers are also innovating with new salt strategies and substitutes: check out efforts by Firmenich and Givaudan, for starters.
  • Lastly, big-name companies including Mars, H.J. Heinz Co., Kraft Foods Inc. and Starbucks have all publicly committed to reducing salt in their product lines in recent years. 
View the database of 11 Salt Reduction companies here

👀 Who? (11 companies in this space)

📈 The figures

Source: PhytoCo

🧂 Case study: PhytoCo

  • Seoul-based food tech startup PhytoCo (Phyto Corporation, to use its full name) makes PhytoSalt, a reformulated version of salt that’s 20% lower in sodium than your average table salt.
  • It’s also free from harmful microplastics and 100% plant-based. 
  • The South Korean company’s salt replacement is made from a pretty handy plant, Salicornia (also known as samphire), which naturally accumulates salt as it grows in coastal or saltwater habitats. 
  • PhytoSalt is the first ever plant-based salt - and it provides the same taste, texture and functional uses as ordinary salt. But of course it’s way better for human health. 
  • This makes it an excellent substitute for table salt in CPG products like chips and crackers, but it can also be included in sports drinks due to its high levels of essential minerals. 
  • The salt substitute is also highly sustainable as Salicornia can be cultivated en masse using seawater agriculture, so is free from the environmental cons of traditional farming. 
  • Future plans? PhytoCo aims to launch more plant-based food products made using PhytoSalt. 

🚰 Case study: Iposol

  • IPOSOL is a UK-based company working on its own salt substitute - a liquid version! 
  • The product, of the same name, is made of one-third conventional sea salt and two-thirds tap water, which contains 28% salt and 9.8% sodium. It is produced in Denmark.
  • The company owners hope it can provide a low-sodium alternative to traditional dry salt. 
  • The major benefits of Iposol? Exactly the same taste as normal salt, with no chemical additives, and up to 62% less sodium.
  • And another potential pro for food manufacturers? There’s no need to tinker with their product specifications - 5g of dry salt can be replaced with 5ml of IPOSOL liquid salt. Simple! 
  • The salt substitute has already been successfully trialled in breadsticks, pizza, bacon and sausages. It’s also been shown to preserve the crispness of bread - an exciting development given salt’s role in prolonging the longevity of foods.
  • IPOSOL now plans to enter the Middle Eastern market, where high-salt diets are a particular issue.

👍The good

  • Salt reduction benefits both food producers and consumers. Shoppers are keen to reduce their salt intake, and salt reduction by manufacturers both offers customers what they want, and improves health outcomes. Win-win! 
  • Sea salt and microplastics are now inextricably linked, but innovations like PhytoSalt show ways forward to counter this worrying new trend.
  • As we’ve seen, sugar reduction tends to grab the headlines and has been a busy space for innovation in the past decade. Sodium reduction efforts, meanwhile, have languished on the sidelines – making the sector ripe for disruption.

👎 The bad

  • The fact of the matter is: reducing salt without compromising on flavour is really tricky. It’s nowhere near as simple as swapping out sugar for aspartame or stevia. And that might be why there’s so few operating in this segment at present.
  • Salt substitutes also have a bit of a marketing problem to solve, as consumers may not warm to the labels used to describe alt salt. Good news is that the FDA last year permitted one alt-salt brand’s request to use a more consumer-friendly name for their product. 
  • Then there’s customer hesitancy around removing salt and its effects on taste: in many minds, salt reduction automatically equals bland and boring. So those working on salt substitutes start out with a mountain to climb.

💡The bottom line

  • Today, our average salt consumption is 10 to 20 times that of our ancestors 5000 years ago. Something needs to give. 
  • Salt reduction efforts have slowed in recent years, as other health trends have grabbed the limelight, but the sector now seems to be picking up momentum again. Only time will tell as to how successful efforts will be to reduce salt in our food - in a way that won’t turn off consumers for good.
FoodTech News Digested ✉️
Every Monday (12pm CET) & Friday (1pm CET) in your inbox

Reports

New Energy: the 37 companies creating better-for-you energy drinks
Flour power: the rise of substitute alternatives to traditional wheat flour
Meet the lupini bean: the humble legume - and the next big superfood - you’ve never heard of
Animal Free Cheese: the 90+ brands on quest to make great tasting cheese, cow-free
New kids on the block: the 40+ brands making healthier choices for babies and children
Vegan beef jerky and cell-cultured seafood: Africa’s FoodTech scene is heating up
The fourth wave of craft coffee is coming: are you ready for a revamped cup of jo?
The 50+ companies driving the shift to plant-based chicken