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Firms tinker with recipe worth its salt

Heinz

Research shows new ketchup recipe may be successful.

BUSINESS WIRE Enlarge

A little more than a year ago, the H.J. Heinz Co. announced it was changing the recipe for its flagship ketchup for the first time in decades. The Pittsburgh food company reduced the sodium content by 15 percent, a change first seen in bottles sold last summer.

Online alarm ensued, with consumers expressing indignation and fear over potential changes in the flavor of their favorite ketchup.

But the company's faith in its taste testers may have been well founded. Heinz reported earlier this year that its volume share of the U.S. market had grown slightly to 47.4 percent, based on Nielsen Co. data. That number doesn't include sales through Walmart stores or warehouse clubs.

Not all food companies have had such luck with the drive to reduce sodium content, a push meant to help people eat more healthfully. Too much sodium is seen as a factor in high blood pressure and heart disease.

The Campbell Soup Co. triggered salty comments last month when it appeared to backtrack on efforts to cut the sodium in its soups, even going so far as saying it would add more.

The Camden, N.J., company found that consumers just didn't like the flavor of many of its Select Harvest soups. Or as a mid-July presentation to investors put it: "Reducing sodium levels in foods while preserving taste is difficult."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, quickly put out a statement criticizing the changes and even adding a few choice comments on Campbell's soups.

"If Campbell has reason to believe consumers don't like the taste of their products, why resort to salt?" asked Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Washington, D.C., group. "Why not improve tomato soup with more and better-quality tomatoes, or chicken noodle soup with more chicken?"

A week later, Campbell's issued a news release reiterating that it would still have lots of reduced-sodium soups for those looking to cut back on salt -- and noting that it had done a lot of sodium cutting already in products that would not be changed.

But it stood by plans to tinker with Select Harvest soups. "Enhanced recipes will include a variety of flavors and seasonings, including increased salt," Campbell's said.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Teresa F. Lindeman is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette.

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