This week saw Nestlé’s biggest move into the plant-based space so far. With the news of this, it became pertinent to ask: as consumers become more educated about health and wellness, should companies be concerned with the levels of sodium in their plant-based meat alternatives?
To explore this further, FoodBev’s Harriet Jachec spoke with Ronja Berthold, the political outreach officer for the European Vegetarian Union (EVU) and ProVeg International, and Minna Hakaoja, food industry and retail consultant for ProVeg International.
Berthold stressed that sweeping health claims can occur when discussing meat-free alternatives, as the vegan and vegetarian market is so vast.
“The market comes with so many different plant bases, compositions, and flavourings. So there is a huge variety within the space.
“When it comes to salt, some vegan and vegetarian alternatives do contain large amounts of salt. There was a study conducted in Germany that compared vegan and vegetarian alternatives to their animal based counterparts where they found that large amounts of salt are in the meat-based originals to begin with.
“What they also found was that plant-based foods are nutritionally and physiologically more favourable than the non-vegetarian ones especially when it comes to protein and fat content.”
Consumers are not only reaching for plant-based alternatives for health reasons, but for sustainability concerns too, Berthold noted. This could negate some concerns surrounding sodium in favour of purchasing environmentally- and animal-friendly food products.
“Consumers who purchase meat-free alternatives are also looking out for the environment and animal welfare, for example. So there are many reasons as to why consumers are purchasing these products, and health is just a singular reason.”
Concerns with sodium in plant-based alternatives are not new, but with more studies being published on the subject, the topic is coming to the fore.
Hakaoja explained why this may be so: “In the past, there were not as many products available in this space. Now we have a greater variety, and the market is still growing. This used to be more niche than it currently is.
“Now that more people are consuming meat alternatives, the whole category has gained more attention. This is the biggest reason for the rise in these health concerns.”
In terms of legislative action, none has been taken so far in regards to the levels of sodium in plant-based alternatives, but rather the space is reliant on voluntary commitment to healthy meat alternatives.
Though the current feeling is that this would remain the case for now, Berthold suggested that in the case of possible future mandatory rulings, companies would be expected to ‘develop food compositions accordingly’.
“It would strongly depend on the legislative action if things would have to be changed at all. This would not only affect plant-based companies, but all food producers.
“They would need to then think about strategies to reduce salt accordingly.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020