Interview

Finding the balance between healthy and tasty feels like a tense marriage

Petra Dekker & Tom van Hengstum

Quality dairy aims to make a contribution to healthy and sustainable nutrition for everyone

Reading time:
5 minutes

Interview FrieslandCampina with quality dairy aims to make a contribution to healthy and sustainable nutrition for everyone, now and for generations to come. But aside from the quality aspect, the dairy must also taste good, have a sufficiently long shelf life and must meet functional requirements. Petra Dekker, Corporate Manager Nutrition & Health, and Tom van Hengstum, Director Technology & Innovation Dairy Essentials, tell us how they find the right balance here on the basis of the cheese salt reduction programme.

“Salt reduction is important, because many consumers take in too much salt. Most of the salt we consume, we eat during our warm meal, but we also take in salt through bread, cheese and meats,” says Petra. “Too much salt can cause high blood pressure. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is important to limit the intake of salt, sugar and fat in the fight against diseases of affluence, such as obesity and nutrition-related diseases.”

Tom determines the limits of what is technically feasible and I try to get the most out of this in terms of health. Ultimately we always work it out together

Petra Dekker

Taking responsibility

“Naturally as FrieslandCampina we take our responsibility in this and we have developed the Global Nutritional Standards for all of our products,” Petra continues. “This is an overview that indicates which nutritional requirements – for example, for salt, sugar and fat – must be met to create a healthier product portfolio. We did not conceive of these ourselves, but derived them from the nutritional criteria of the Choices International Foundation. This is a foundation with independent scientists that defined the global criteria for salt, sugar and fat for developing healthier products. These criteria are recognised by the WHO and we have incorporated them into our standards.”

Of course for product development, we ensure that all of our new products are tested against the Global Nutritional Standards

Tom van Hengstum

Impact

“When you refer to salt reduction in cheese, you are primarily talking about using less salt,” Tom explains. “And then I mean a lot less. In fact in our product portfolio of Goudse 48+ cheese, as much as 22% less! Because this is the cheese most often consumed in the Netherlands and one of our largest cheese products in terms of volume, this has an impact. We gradually introduced this reduction over a period of ten years to allow consumers to get used to this reduction in salt on a step by step basis. We monitored all this through means of taste tests throughout the process.”

Collective approach

“By the way, we are not the only cheese producer lowering the quantity of salt. We made arrangements with other cheese producers to do this collectively, so that the consumer can get used to this new standard,” Tom continues. In the Netherlands this is set out in the Improved Product Composition Agreement (AVP) as a sector arrangement. This agreement concerns all products in which salt, sugar and fat will be reduced.”

Petra indicates that the 22% reduction does not (yet) apply to the total cheese portfolio. “We are talking about the Netherlands and of course cheese is also being imported from other countries here. We therefore approached the European Union to ask it to formulate international agreements on this subject.”

Limits

“Of course there are limits to how much one can lower the amount of salt,” says Tom. “First, salt is very important for taste. Furthermore, you need salt for the cheese’s shelf life, and finally salt is important for texture. What comes to mind here is the firmness of the cheese, because the less salt you use the softer the cheese becomes. This can be a problem in processing the cheese, for example when you grate or cut it.”

Tense marriage

In that case, is it difficult to reconcile these interests concerning health on the one hand, and tasty and functional on the other? “Sometimes it feels like an tense marriage,” Petra laughs. “Tom determines the limits of what is technically feasible and I try to get the most out of this in terms of health. Of course I understand that the consumer must still be willing to purchase our cheese. If consumers opt for a cheese that still contains too much salt, then we are also not achieving our objective.” Tom: “Actually, there really is no dilemma, but we have to effectively listen to each other and continue to challenge one another to come up with the best possible result.” Petra: “Each year we measure how much of our cheese complies with the Global Nutritional Standards and each time it is exciting to see whether we have achieved our objectives or not.”

Salt alternatives

Petra explains that for the Goudse 48+, the maximum salt reduction has since been achieved: “We have reached a point beyond which we cannot go by using less salt. Otherwise you are going to make concessions to taste, texture and shelf life. And if the cheese no longer has a good shelf life, this can result in food wastage, and of course we do not want that either. At the present time we are primarily looking at using less salt in our other cheeses.” Tom: “Of course we are also looking at other methods of further reducing the salt in our products and we are also looking at salt alternatives. We are working on this with various other parties in the sector, such as other producers, suppliers, as well as scientists. But we are still at a very early stage here, which means that you are talking about possible solutions over the somewhat longer term.”

New objectives

“In 2015, we started looking at the extent to which FrieslandCampina’s total product portfolio meets our Global Nutritional Standards,” says Petra. “In 2015, this was 57% and by the end of 2019, we achieved 70%, which actually was our objective for 2020. We are quite proud of this! For that matter, we will never achieve 100%, because statutory provisions stipulate that some products must contain a certain quantity of salt or sugar. But of course we are aiming for the maximum, and we will determine our objectives for 2025 on the basis of the latest scientific insights and possibilities.”

Better nutrition for the world

Balanced product supply

Basic food products sold as a percentage of
the total volume of consumer products sold

79%

70%

Product composition 
of the total volume of

consumer products
comply with the

FrieslandCampina Global
Nutritional Standards

36

Brands worldwide

FrieslandCampina

27/02/2020

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