Reformulating to Remove Sodium

Reducing Salt

Much has said about reducing our sodium intake and considerable time, energy and budget is being focused upon reducing the sodium content of processed foods and snacks. Many consumers are also reducing their own use of salt and their palates are already adjusting to lower levels of sodium.

The constant reformulation of products is not new. We have reduced fat and sugar, moved increasingly away from artificial towards natural ingredients, reformulated to reduce cost and due to manufacturing changes. But are we actually getting any better at it?

Formulation changes mean that the product will be different from how it was before and arguably removing sodium is more complex with greater repercussions than other reformulations. Much of our development effort – quite rightly – goes into minimising the sensory change to our product. But it will change. What we really need to focus upon is how this change affects the consumers’ emotional response to our product. It is the consumers’ response to the change that is important not the change per se. 

Understanding the consumers’ emotional response to different formulations is far more important than measuring the change or the noticeability of the change on taste or texture. Consumers are always conservative in preference testing preferring the known to the new, but if you understand the emotional shift that a new formulation brings – the product feels healthier, updated, more wholesome, less satisfying, more natural, less indulgent… Then you can embrace the difference, make it your strength, your advantage. Take the consumer with you with your reformulation rather than hoping that they will either not notice or at least understand.

Remember when you first gave up sugar in your coffee. Did it taste better? Would you have voted for the one with sugar or the one without in a preference test? But you were determined it was what you wanted, and six months later which one would have won your preference test then?

Chris Lukehurst is a Consumer Psychologist and a Director at The Marketing Clinic.

Understanding the connections between the consumer experience and their emotional responses.