Campbell Co. of Canada is trying to distance itself from controversy after its U.S.-based parent company announced plans last week to put more salt back into some of its soups.
The move, which sparked a storm of criticism, is designed to boost flavour and attract more customers in response to lagging sales. But it took many medical experts, health advocates and consumers by surprise because the company has been at the forefront of efforts in recent years to cut the amount of salt that is added to packaged and processed foods.
Denise Morrison, incoming chief executive officer of Campbell Soup Co., told an investors meeting last week the company would increase the amount of salt in soups sold under the Select Harvest brand. Sodium levels will rise to 650 milligrams from 480 milligrams in those products, she said. While sodium reduction is important, Ms. Morrison told Reuters "we have to do other things, like taste and more culinary credentials."
The company's Canadian division said in a statement that there are "currently no plans to adjust existing sodium-reduced varieties," adding that the soups that are being targeted for additional sodium are not available in Canada.
Anthony Sanzio, a U.S.-based spokesman for Campbell's, said the company remains committed to offering lower-sodium options, but will move some global research and development dollars to other areas.
"We're not going to be as solely focused on sodium reduction," he said.
The Salt Institute, a U.S.-based industry advocacy group, said the company's lagging sales should be a "cautionary tale" for companies that want to cut sodium in their products.
"Campbell is right to respond to their customers rather than activists" who tell consumers that eating too much sodium is harmful to health, Salt Institute president Lori Roman said in a statement.
Kevin Willis, director of partnerships at the Canadian Stroke Network, pointed out that although the company is seen as a leader in the lower-sodium movement, many of its products still have far too much salt.
"Even though Campbell had made great strides, they still had a long way to go to make their products healthy with respect to sodium," he said. "Certainly adding it back is problematic."
Dr. Willis added the company's move illustrates why voluntary efforts to coax companies to reduce sodium in their products may not work in many cases. Canada is currently pursuing a voluntary sodium reduction approach, but Dr. Willis said it seems clear to make a real difference, companies must be mandated to lower their overall sodium levels.