Forget fat – salt is the new ‘bad boy’ on the catering scene, writes TAN PARSONS
Salt – it is the ancient condiment that makes our meals taste better, preserves our food and, used in moderation, is an indispensable part of the wholesale and foodservice industry.
But it may be about to come under the microscope of the health lobby and subjected to greater scrutiny than ever before as the Government tries to curb consumption levels.
In July, the Food Standards Agency’s ‘public attitudes tracker’ found 47% of consumers are worried about the amount of salt in food – putting it ahead of fat, sugar, and even food hygiene and salmonella-poisoning when eating out.
Back in March, food at a string of high-street chains, including restaurants owned by Gordon Ramsay and food quality-campaigner Jamie Oliver, was tested for its salt levels. More than half of the restaurants had at least 2.4g of salt per portion, which would get them a red traffic-light label in supermarkets. Ironically, of those owned by celebrity chefs, Jamie’s Italian had the highest levels of salt.
One industry insider says there is a danger of salt becoming the new ‘bad boy’ of the manufactured food world, in the same way that trans-fats once were.
So what does this mean for wholesalers? JJ Food Service general manager Terry Larkin says that the attitudes of wholesalers’ customers towards salt are divided, with fast food restaurants and high-street outlets at one end of the spectrum and schools at the other.
“I am unaware of anyone checking a doner kebab for sodium levels and percentage of saturated fat before devouring it,” he says.
“However, we do also trade with many education accounts and here the thinking is the polar opposite.”
The wholesaler has to confirm the products it supplies to schools meet the Government’s nutrition standards and has to back this up with product specifications that are available on demand.
Larkin says his business relies on manufacturers to take the lead in responding to consumer needs, but JJ Food Service does have several lines billed as healthier options, such as low fat and salt sausages and low salt and sugar baked beans.
These items remain a hard sell among outlets in the profit sector, such as fast food restaurants, but the pressure from the cost sector is increasing on wholesalers not only to be transparent about the nutrition of their products, but also to do more to promote healthier options.
The London Borough of Enfield has now asked JJ Food Service to raise awareness of healthier options in its publications and on its website.
There’s dough in bread
Pan’Artisan makes bread products such as pizza bases and has done a lot of work with schools to get its products right. Nothing it sells contains more than 1% salt.
Bread is a key area because salt is crucial to getting the yeast to work and bread provides a fifth of all the salt consumed in our diets.
Managing director Richard Jansen says foodservice wholesalers need to make sure their suppliers are ahead of the game when it comes to salt levels.
“Schools have had for some time a maximum level for salt of 0.75% in anything they buy. It’s something that’s demanded by local education authorities.”
He says the foodservice industry should look at 1% salt levels as a target, because at some stage it will not necessarily apply only to schools.
“Wholesalers need to get on board as far as their suppliers are concerned. If there’s a regulation that’s coming in in two years’ time, most people will be thinking, ‘Let’s do it now’,” he says.