American consumer awareness of the benefits of reducing salt (sodium chloride) and sodium in their diet has reached a nationwide crescendo, making low-sodium/salt and no sodium/salt foods and beverages a major food trend for 2010, according to "Low- and No-Sodium Foods and Beverages in the U.S." by market research publisherPackaged Facts.

Representing 3 percent of the $600 billion total U.S. market for foods and beverages, Packaged Facts, New York, N.Y., estimates the market for low-sodium/salt and no-sodium/salt products in the U.S. market reached $22 billion in 2009. Low-sodium/salt foods and beverages comprised $17 billion of the total and no-sodium/salt products accounted for the remainder.

As the quality of these products improves, they are gaining in popularity with consumers from a variety of backgrounds beyond the traditional niche consumer demographics (i.e., adults age 55 and over, African Americans, and women) that are typically associated with a predilection towards low- and no-sodium foods and beverages.

"Most consumers recognize the health benefits of foods and beverages beyond basic nutrition. And more importantly, a growing number realize that they can influence their own health by cutting back on processed and packaged foods and by reducing the amount of salt added to foods prepared at home," says Don Montuori, Packaged Facts publisher. "And though reducing sodium intake may not always be a consumer's primary strategy for a healthy diet, if good-tasting, lower-sodium options are available at retail consumers will buy them."

As part of the reduced sodium trend, some retailers have started "low-sodium" food aisles to assist consumers with locating the options available to them. Sometimes the lower-sodium foods have two placements in the stores: one in a specialty aisle and the second with the same category of mainstream foods.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of foodservice operators and food manufacturers are making a point of offering low-sodium meals or taking salt out of their products. Recent examples include an announcement by PepsiCo that it has initiated production of a new version of its Lay's potato chips that contains a "designer salt" to make the chips healthier, in addition to plans by Kraft Foods to reduce sodium by an average of 10 percent across its North American portfolio of food products over the next two years.

Packaged Facts pegs palatability as the key for consumers and manufacturers to such efforts, emphasizing that one of the most successful strategies for creating low-sodium alternatives is the gradual reduction of the sodium content of foods and beverages over time so the consumer is not abruptly confronted with a product that tastes substantially different than what the buyer is accustomed to.