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Reducing salt and sugar in processed foods

The food reformulation programme focuses on improving the health of New Zealanders by reducing sugar and salt levels in popular food products.

A family eating healthy food at the table together


Our work with food companies involves setting sugar and salt targets and supporting them to meet those targets. Currently there are more than 50 targets covering more than 40 food categories.

Good progress has been made across categories including major sugar and salt reductions in a range of top-selling breads, breakfast cereals, yoghurts, flavoured milk, cooking sauces, processed meats, cereal bars and crackers.

The Food Reformulation programme has had a significant impact. Today, 760 tonnes of sugar and 335 tonnes of salt are being removed per year from food products.

We work with food companies representing over 80% of the market share in each food category ensuring popular brands and leading-selling foods are prioritised.

The targets are specific to each food category, reflecting the technical role that salt and sugar play in different food products.

Food companies are encouraged to reduce levels in a stepwise fashion to minimise noticeable changes for consumers. The targets are used when reformulating existing products and also when developing new products.

The latest on salt

New Zealanders eat a lot more salt (which is the main source of sodium) than is recommended and the latest evidence shows that high salt intakes have strong links with high blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for heart disease.

Currently, New Zealanders eat more than double the recommended salt intake and around 75% of the salt we eat comes from processed foods.

Salt can be added to processed foods for a variety of reasons, including maintaining shelf life or supporting the texture of the product, as well as taste.

Foods like bread, processed meats (sausages, bacon and ham), breakfast cereals, sauces and savoury snacks are all significant sources of salt in the New Zealand diet.

Focus on sugar

High intakes of sugar are linked with risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol and high triglycerides and can contribute to increased body weight.

Sugar is found in a number of everyday foods so gradually reducing levels can have a significant impact on the health of New Zealanders. Sugar reduction targets cover a range of food categories from yoghurt to pasta sauce to cereal bars and good progress is being made by a number of major food companies in this area.

Significant progress

Salt and sugar reductions have been made gradually and in a stepwise fashion to improve the foods that New Zealanders eat. Below are some of the category-wide reductions and changes that have been made in top selling products.

A woman in the shopping center looking at food commodity's nutritious values.

Key reductions in salt

  • The average salt content of puffed rice, cornflakes and other breakfast cereal categories has been reduced by at least 32%.
  • The average salt content of the bread category has been reduced by 29%
  • The average salt content of the tomato sauce category has been reduced by about 28%.
  • The average salt content of the ham category has been reduced by 20%.

Key reductions in sugar

  • The average sugar content of the 10 top selling yoghurts has been reduced by 39%.
  • The average sugar content of the 10 top selling flavoured milks has been reduced by 18%.
  • A selection of leading selling cereal bars have reduced sugar levels by 27%.
  • A range of leading selling breakfast cereals have reduced sugar levels by over 20%.

Low-cost food

For many New Zealanders, shifting to lower cost, and in some cases processed foods, is a way of stretching their food dollar. However, a number of processed foods like breads and breakfast cereals are a source of salt and sugar.

It is important to work with major food companies to gradually reduce the salt and sugar levels of everyday, leading household products. Changes to these products will bring the largest public health benefits.

Changes to products is a ‘health by stealth’ approach and New Zealanders are getting the benefits of less salt and sugar in their foods but are not detecting the change.

Here are what some of our food companies say about the Food Reformulation programme.


Tracey Seager, Innovation & Sustainability Director - Griffin's, says “The Heart Foundation’s targets have helped us implement changes to a number of our leading products. Sugar levels have been reduced by 20% in some of our most popular Nice & Natural cereal bars and sodium levels reduced by 15 - 20% in some of our popular ETA Chips and Huntley & Palmers Crackers. By making these improvements to our higher selling products, it means we can bring the benefits to many pantries and households across New Zealand.”


Renee Milkop-Kerr, Director of Marketing, Fonterra Brands New Zealand says, “In 2019, Fonterra reformulated the recipe of the Fresh’n Fruity yoghurt, Primo and Anchor CalciYum flavoured milks, while continuing to maintain the delicious taste Kiwis have loved for generations. This reformulation resulted in a 40% average reduction of added sugar across the Fresh’n Fruity range and of a 30% average reduction across the Primo and Anchor CalciYum flavoured milks compared to the original recipe.”

Dave Monro chats with AM Show on Food Reformulation

Watch a clip of our Chief Advisor Food and Nutrition, Dave Monro, where he discusses sugar and salt levels in everyday supermarket foods, and the Heart Foundation’s work to set targets and support companies to lower levels over time.

Dave Monro chats with AM Show on Food Reformulation

Setting Targets

The World Health Organisation’s Sodium Benchmarks and reformulation targets from other parts of the world are considered in target development. Targets need to be relevant to the New Zealand market, achievable and have the support of New Zealand food companies to encourage the strongest uptake. Targets are revised on an ongoing basis to encourage ongoing salt/sugar reduction over time.

Want to know more? Get in touch.

The Food Reformulation programme is funded by Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand.