UK supermarket chain Asda is to cut salt from all its private label canned vegetables by the end of July 2006. Though the move is a reaction to widespread concern about excessive salt consumption, Asda should reap the benefits of being the first retailer to take this step. It may also help to counter consumer perceptions that canned food inherently lacks the health attributes of fresh.
Salt has been singled out by the UK government in recent years as a major contributor to heart disease and targeted in campaigns to raise public awareness about its nefarious health effects. According to the UK Food Standards Agency, over 26 million British consumers ingest more than the recommended maximum of six grams of salt a day, with men consuming 11.0 grams of salt a day on average and women 8.1 grams.
Asda's blanket removal of salt from all of its canned goods is a positive step in terms of public health. Yet the retailer is clearly also tapping into the way in which increasing health awareness among consumers influences their purchase decisions. Consumer attitudes to canned goods have shifted significantly in recent years due to changing expectations and the growth in availability of fresh food. Many now perceive canned goods as lacking in 'fresh' character.
Salt is widely used as an inexpensive seasoning and flavor enhancer and levels are particularly high in economy products such as soups, ready-meals or burgers. Datamonitor's 2005 consumer survey revealed that consumers increasingly read nutritional values on labels and that too many additives in a prepared meal would discourage 46% of consumers from purchasing the product. By publicizing the removal of salt from its canned vegetables, Asda is clearly looking to appeal to consumers concerned about nutrition and maintain revenue growth from this product category.
Reducing the amount of salt used in food manufacture may prove a challenge to Asda's suppliers, however the strategy of emphasizing the healthy character of a product category that is losing popularity to fresh and chilled goods, and taking this step before its UK competitors, should see Asda reap the rewards at the till.