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Food giants bow to pressures to reduce salt, sugar in products

By Franklin Alli & Naomi Uzor

GLOBAL food companies including Nestle, Unilever, Mondelez International Inc (owners of Cadbury Nigeria Plc as well as Promasidor and Ajinomoto Group) are making efforts to reduce the level of salt and sugar in their products, especially seasonings. They are doing this in response to governmental, consumers and non-governmental organisations’ demand for healthier products and to retain their market shares.

Salt and sugar are among the ingredients used to make all the seasoning in the market. In Nigeria, the top brands include Nestle Nigeria Plc, makers of Maggi; Unilever Nigeria Plc, producers of Knorr and Royco; Promasidor Nigeria Limited, makers of Onga; and MaDish from the stable of Ajinomoto Group, among other companies and products.

Vanguard Companies & Market, C&M, investigations show that in Nigeria, one serving of Maggi cubes contains 11.4 grams of sugar and 25 grams of sodium (salt), Knorr seasoning from the stable of Unilever contains 14 grams of sugar and 738.52 milligrams of sodium per serving. Royco 25 grams of sodium and 0 grams of sugar while in MaDish seasoning made by Ajinomoto, the salt level is 65 gram. Comparatively, in Switzerland, one cube of the product contains 3.1 grams of salt.

The World Health Organisation recommends a daily intake of no more than five grams as elevated intakes raises the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Most people consume about twice of that amount. Madam Alice Akor, told our reporters that she’s unaware of the danger of excess salt to the body, but said: “I use four cubes of Maggi to cook a meal and still add iodized salt to the soup. This is to bring out the taste.”

Mrs. Helen Effiong, while noting that they are killing us gently to make million, said: “I use Knorr because the salt level is lower than others. I don’t use certain seasonings because they cause me stomach discomfort. Madam Ngozi Ognonna, a food vendor, said Knorr is my best and I don’t use iodized salt again in the food if I use one cube of Knorr. I normally use it to cook meat. I prefer the brand because of the taste and inviting aroma.”

Also, Mrs. Kemi Idowu, a caterer who claims she had been in the business for over 20 years, said: “I am used to Maggi star, growing up, that was what we used for all our cookings at home. It is not as if I have never tried other seasonings but you know when you are used to a particular brand, changing habit is difficult because it really brings out the taste of my food.”

A distributor at Oke-Arin market in Lagos Island said: “I can’t really say that a particular seasoning is doing better than the other because every day I have demand for Onga, Ajinomoto, Knorr, and Maggi. Most times, if I don’t have exactly what they want, they go to another shop to buy. That is why I try to get all the seasonings so that they can make their choices.”

According to Dominique Allier, Business Executive Officer Culinary for Nestle Central and West Africa, “the iconic brand, Maggi, is on a mission to support home cooks with healthier and tastier choices, by simplifying ingredients lists, reducing salt and increasing micronutrient fortification. With 4,600 food portions around the world prepared every second with Maggi, the company believes that these changes will have a positive impact. Consumer expectations are changing; they want products with common ingredients they know, minimal processing, natural or organic and ideally locally produced. Our company has a role to play in contributing to the needs of the society.”

Needs of the society

Dominique said in addition to fortification, the company will continue to improve the nutritional profile of its product, reducing the salt content in Maggi tablets and cubes in the region by 22 percent. The company is committed to create more value for the society and the environment by reducing the weight of our Maggi wrappers by 13 percent in the region, which will represent around 300t reduction of packaging material by 2020.

Fielding question on how the market in Nigeria is reacting to the anticipated new and improved Maggi products, Mauricio Alarcon, Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer, Nestle Nigeria Plc, said: “One of the great things that we have is that we are having amazing relationships with our distributors; they have been part of our business for a very long time and they trust us; they have a high level of confidence and understanding on why we need to do that, because it is not about the present but the future of the product. So, they have confidence and they know that we are doing the right thing. We are sure we have their supports and we will continue to have their supports.”

 

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