It’s a marketing triumph to increase salt sales when Canadians eat too much of the stuff.
We’re supposed to limit salt to 2,300 milligrams a day. Instead we consume 3,400. The Harper government created a task force to study the problem and they came up with recommendations. Then government replaced the task force with a panel. That one was criticized for having too many ties to the food industry. Predictably, the panel recommendations were more industry-friendly than health-conscious.
Health Canada was then instructed by the Harper government, I think it’s fair to suppose, to make regulations to the food industry voluntary.
To no one’s surprise, voluntary regulations don’t work. Average salt levels didn’t decrease, reports Carly Weeks (Globe and Mail, April 27, 2016). A few foods where it did decrease was cause for the food industry to claim that they were making “significant progress.”
Time will tell whether the Trudeau government will get serious about regulating the food industry. It was one of their campaign promises.
Selling more salt when your product is so vilified may seem like trying to increase cigarette sales. The trick is to find where salt is controlled by consumers. It turns out that we don’t control most of the salt we consume.
Most of the salt comes from packaged foods: 77 per cent. Only 6 per cent is added while cooking and another 5 per cent is added at the table. (I don’t put a salt shaker on the table. I figure it’s an insult to my cooking when guests add salt.)
The market, then, is in the 6 per cent that the cook adds and the 5 per cent (unwisely) put on the table. Windsor Salt, one of Canada’s oldest brands, is giving itself a more “premium” image reports Susan Krashinsky (Globe and Mail, April 28, 2016.)
Windsor’s vice-president of sales and marketing explains the strategy: “Now, we see a trend where the consumer is willing to pay more for salt with different features.”
Image is important: Windsor has made small changes to the design of the package. These changes may seem trivial but they’re based on research. The changes were tested on subjects in which illustrations, called planograms, of salt packages on store shelves where shown to test subjects. Designs that were most eye-catching were used.
Another tactic is table appeal. A Windsor marketer states: “Our goal is to be on the table with that bottle of wine, and the nice cheese that the consumer is buying.”
It’s working. Specialty salts now make up one-half the retail salt market in Canada. More shelf space is being given these salts. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver sells his own line of salt grinders including Mediterranean sea salt, pink Himalayan salt, and thyme, lemon and bay salt.
Salt sales are up: on a tonnage basis by 2 per cent and on a dollar basis, 11 per cent. Salty snack sales are up. A Neilson researcher says: “Even though consumers are concerned about health and wellness, the salty snack category is doing really well.”
It’s a triumph of marketing over good sense and lack of regulation.