Woolworths – Salt Reformulation Case Study

Reducing Sodium in Woolworths Own Brands Products: Making the Healthier Choice the Easier Choice.

Who: Woolworths supermarket chain with 995 stores across Australia, employing over 115,000 team members.

Product range: Woolworths Own Brand

Commitment to health & nutrition:

Woolworths ambition is to help make healthier eating easier for the majority of customers who are increasingly concerned about their health and wellness.

In 2016, they launched their Woolworths Corporate Responsibility Strategy 2020 that included a goal to inspire their customers to consume all their products in a healthy, sustainable way.

As part of their public commitment, Woolworths stated they would continue to invest in their own brand portfolio. This included providing clear and transparent labelling including the Health Star Rating, not using additives customers had asked them to remove and improving the nutritional profile of products to make healthier choices easier.

Woolworths own brand products are required to go through a nutrition review and customer tasting panel as part of the product development process.

Commitment to salt reduction:

Woolworths reformulation journey began in 2009 when they became an active participant in the Government’s Food & Health Dialogue program which focussed primarily on salt reduction across nine commonly consumed food categories. In 2017, Woolworths own brand met all targets when they completed a 20% salt reduction across seven hams and 30% salt reduction in Woolworths cheese slices.

To continue their effort, in 2015 Woolworths worked with The George Institute to develop over 150 category targets for sodium, sugar, saturated fat and kilojoules. All products developed under Woolworths Own Brand are required to meet these targets.

There were some challenges, as with no salt reduction targets in place for industry, it wasn’t an even playing field.  In many cases, they couldn’t just look at salt in isolation, but were required to review entire product recipes for complete redevelopment to deliver the right balance on both taste and health.

What has Woolworths achieved with salt reduction:

Woolworths is one of the largest food manufacturers in Australia leading the way in terms of salt reformulation.

In the last five years Woolworths has cut 395 tonnes of salt from their Own Brand products, including reducing salt by 30% from their ready meal range, and are now in the process of setting longer term goals for their products.

Importantly, Woolworths state that they didn’t lose sales or experience any negative impact during this process – in fact they are proud that their customers still love the products and haven’t even noticed the gradual change as they became healthier.

Also backing the process was Woolworths senior management, recognising it made good business sense to offer convenient products that don’t compromise the health of their customers.

Not content to rest on their laurels, Woolworths say this is just the beginning and are now looking towards longer term reformulation goals.

Key Learnings Woolworths Can Share with industry:

By listening to customers, Woolworths found that they want healthier foods and they also found it was possible to reduce the salt in their Own Brand products without sacrificing taste or convenience.

Woolworths put in place a team of accredited nutritionists to guide healthier product development, food labelling and communications. Even if your business doesn’t have this in place, they recommend that a good place to start is to find key areas for improvement by measuring your products against the rest of the market.

Once they had their targets, it was about working closely with suppliers, product developers and their customers – the true taste testers – to bring them on a journey by taking a gradual approach to salt reformulation.

Quote from Woolworths:

“Our biggest successes have been where we achieved significant salt reduction, but have also improved the taste and quality of our products at the same time.” Natalie Chong, Woolworths Senior Nutritionist

“Our customers tell us that health is important to them – now more so than ever, and as a food retailer, we are in a position to help people make steps towards healthier eating, we are on a journey and we still have much more work to do working alongside our customers, suppliers and communities” said Alex Holt, General Manager of Quality, Sustainability and Health.

Links to their website:

https://www.woolworthsgroup.com.au/icms_docs/186036_woolworths-group-corporate-responsibility-strategy-2020.pdf