Reformulation Readiness breakfast champions unpacking the salt

Article provided by Elizabeth Joldeski from the Heart Foundation

Food manufacturers and public health professionals swelled the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on 19 June for the Heart Foundation and VicHealth’s inaugural Reformulation Readiness breakfast event.

The event was an exciting opportunity to learn from leading food industry experts who shared their experience, passion and expertise on how the Australian food manufacturing industry can take the next steps to improve the quality and health profile of processed foods by unpacking the salt.

Importantly, the food manufacturing industry was strongly represented with over 65 delegates, including some of Australia’s largest food manufacturers and food retailers. Companies attending included: Mars Food Australia, Nestle, Coles, Aldi, Woolworths, Lion, Mondelez, McCormick Foods Australia, Simplot, Little Brixton, Barilla Australia, Heinz, Fonterra, 7-Eleven, Pepsico, Jenny Craig, Silly Yak Foods, Freedom Food Group, Entyce Food Ingredients. This representation and attendance demonstrates the strong commitment and responsibility that Australian food manufacturers are taking towards the shared mission of making our processed foods healthier, particularly to lower the salt content.

The event was well received, and initial feedback shows an overwhelmingly positive response for the variety and quality of the keynote, panel and the roundtables. Tobie Puttock set the scene provoking many in the audience to take the fresh chef’s philosophy into the manufacturing setting. Whilst chefs might use a sprinkle of salt for flavouring, using it as a preservative was strongly discouraged. The panel including Dr Bruce Bolam (Chief Preventive Health Officer), Dr Bruce Neal (The George Institute), Monique Cashion (Woolworths) and Tobie discussed global insights, how far food manufacturers have come, why salt reduction is such an effective strategy for improving population health, and how Woolworths is showing it can be done here in Australia.

The round tables provided a great opportunity for networking and detailed questions with strong interest in benchmarking, the how-to reformulation guide, and examples from manufacturers who are reformulating. Below are some key takeaway messages from the tables:

Table 1 – Benchmarking & Food & Nutrition Databases: How can food manufacturers find out which foods are healthy?

  • Discussion focussed on The George Institute’s benchmarking with lots of questions and queries around how this worked. https://www.foodswitch.com.au/#/home
  • Monique Cashion, from Woolworths made the point that it’s a good opportunity to look at other nutrients beyond salt (sugar etc.) while you are doing your benchmarking and noted that factors such as Health Star Rating, whilst a contributing factor was not the only driver. https://unpackthesalt.com.au/casestudies/woolworths/
  • Comments around ‘is consumer demand moving faster than technology?’
  • There’s only so low manufacturers can go to reduce salt before the product changes. More needs to be invested into R&D and technology so sodium can be reduced further.
  • Some manufacturers who sell internationally said the drivers for reformulation were increasingly coming from international countries e.g. Singapore.

Table 2 – Grants & Resources: What help is there to support manufacturers on the reformulation path?

Discussion focussed on the opportunity for major supermarket retailers, who manufacture their own home brands, to educate smaller manufacturers within their supply chain on grants and support to help small businesses start on their reformulation journeys, particularly in relation to the Victorian Food Innovation Grants and the FIAL Victorian Salt Reduction Initiative Grants which will be available from 1 July.

Table 3 – What are the key challenges & tips from a food manufacturer: Simplot?

  • High volume products should be targeted for sodium reduction not small sellers as this has bigger influence.
  • 10 percent sodium reduction not detected by consumers.
  • Health Star Rating that results from salt reduction may result in increased support and will help lobby change from decision makers.
  • Key drivers for change identified as: steering group, top down leadership, strategy team in salt reduction-buy in, health and nutrition committee with key executive membership.
  • Silent reformulation, incremental salt reduction is preferable to public declaration (less salt=less taste to consumers)
  • No negative impact on sales or bottom line
  • Updating labels has costs but if small change, the update can be delayed.
  • If you are going to update for salt you can incorporate other changes, fat, sugar.
  • https://www.simplot.com.au/health-nutrition/healthy-choices/#nutrition-improvement-program

Table 4 – Technical Step-by-Step Guide: What are the key steps to reformulate a product?

  • Really positive feedback on the need for a guide. Discussions focussed on the key steps at the top line and participants didn’t seem to think any key areas were missing.
  • Some of the manufacturers, who were more experienced, were perhaps looking for a different level of technical detail – more specifics, but this is the level where technical experts and consultants could be brought in and tap into networks via Food Innovation Network or FIAL.
  • Some asked specifically about the view of potassium salt replacers, and this point will be clarified within the guide.
  • Note, the Guide is expected to be released within the next 6-10 weeks, once all feedback from this event has been incorporated. All Reformulation Readiness delegates are on the mailing list to receive notification of the release of the Guide. 

Table 5 – Victorian Healthy Choices Policy & Healthy Eating Advisory Service

  • Discussion focused on how to access the Victorian Healthy Choices guidelines, how they align with Health Star Rating, and whether there could be a consistent approach at state and federal levels.
  • Discussion also focussed on the school canteens policy in Victoria http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/school/principals/management/gfylpolicy.pdf
  • Also looked at FoodChecker, how it works and the information it provides. http://foodchecker.heas.health.vic.gov.au/
  • If you are asking yourself ‘what I can do next? And what action can I take to implement this within my own world?’ Here’s some more inspiration on what you might like to do to become a champion salt remover and shaker:
  • Again, a big thank you to everyone for attending the Reformulation Readiness event – we hope the session went some way to shake some of the myths around salt reduction and demonstrate that it can be done. Further we hope it inspired and re-invigorated your commitment to take salt reformulation forward.

What can you do next to help us #UnpackTheSalt?

  1. Take your experience and ideas back and share them with your organisation. Share this summary, use the photos attached and post an update in your internal newsletters.
  2. If you are a large manufacturer and very advanced in your reformulation journey and ready to share your story, please contact us as via email unpackthesalt@heartfoundation.org.au we are looking for more case studies to share with industry on our website.
  3. If you are a large manufacturer/retailer and would like to share knowledge with your supply chain around grants, please share the link to the Victorian Salt Reduction Innovation Grants.
  4. If you are interested in hosting an information session with your staff, particularly your marketing and product development teams to present the health implications of salt and reformulation, contact the Heart Foundation at unpackthesalt@heartfoundation.org.au, we will be available from August 2018 to schedule and undertake presentations.
  5. If you are keen to engage with the Victorian Salt Reduction Partnership for a detailed one-on-one meeting to receive a personal briefing on the salt reduction project, what we have learnt so far and how we can help you to reformulate please email, Liz Joldeski elizabeth.joldeski@heartfoundation.org.au to schedule a meeting.
  6. If you are a small to medium sized manufacturer – apply for a Victorian Salt Reduction Innovation grant from 1 July https://fialdev.net/web/building-healthier-food/funding
  7. Stay tuned for the launch of the Reformulation Readiness Step-by-Step Guide, coming soon.

“We have a common mission and a huge responsibility as the collective; food industry, producers, manufacturers, chefs, nutritionists, marketers, retailers, governments, public health bodies to work together to #UnpackTheSalt”, Toby Puttock, addressing the breakfast attendees.

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Coordinator - Victorian Food Innovation Network

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