Over the years, increasing amounts of sodium have turned up in nearly every segment of the food industry.
But the times are working against the popular flavoring agent. Pressure from physician and public advocacy groups has provoked a response from the Food and Drug Administration, which late last year held its first hearing to determine if sodium needs to be regulated.
Manufacturers are anticipating change by voluntarily holding the salt. According to Productscan Online, the percentage of new foods with label claims touting low or no sodium has nearly doubled over the past four years, from 5.5% in 2003 to 10.7% in 2007. Meals and snacks lead the way, with low-sodium soups, potato chips, frozen dinners and even cereals starting to line shelves. Many items, like Campbell's 25% Less Sodium Chicken Noodle Soup, are a reformulation of a venerated product. Others, like Terra's line of chips with 90% less sodium, are entirely new to their categories.
So far, sales have been impressive. Consumer packaged goods that made low-salt or low-sodium claims brought in nearly $10.5 billion total in 2007, according to the Nielsen Co. — an increase of more than $1 billion over 2005.