A Sara Lee First: Lower Sodium Deli Meats

Sara Lee is introducing a new line of lower sodium deli meats in response to competitors’ efforts in recent years to cut back on salt.

Three new varieties will begin shipping in January, including oven roasted turkey, chicken breast and honey ham. Price ranges $6.99 to $8.99. Sara Lee claims the turkey has 40% less sodium than the USDA standard for similar non-reduced deli products, while the chicken breast has 42% less sodium and the honey ham has 36% less. Marketing includes a mix of PR, in-store sampling and Catalina coupon offers for those who routinely buy low-sodium products. The tagline for the new products will be revealed in January.

Deli brands such as Dietz & Watson, Butterball and Boar’s Head already carry low-sodium products. But Sara Lee said its point of entry was to offer great taste across an entire line of deli meats. Sara Lee sells corn dogs, kielbasas and Ball Park franks, but lower sodium deli meats are a first for the company. In conducting internal research, the company found that 52% of women and 40% of men are interested in buying lower sodium products.

“As we looked at competitors . . . there weren’t a lot of deli stores out there that were offering a full line of low-sodium meats across all the meat types,” said Jonathan Drake, who heads up Sara Lee’s deli division. “[Also] the only competitors out there that had products that were really so healthy didn’t taste good.”

In categories other than deli meats, lower sodium products are on the rise. Campbell, for instance, is introducing lower sodium Pepperidge Farm bread this month. The company has also reformulated 85 of its 230 soups to contain less salt. Frito-Lay and ConAgra have both cut down on the salt in their potato chip and popcorn products.

“Lower sodium everything is percolating since Campbell reinvented it with ‘sea salt.’ Their success has been very strong,” said Marilyn Raymond, evp at Arbor Strategy in Ann Arbor, Mich. “One of the industry’s biggest complaints is sodium equals processed [food] equals [poor] quality equals bad for you.”

In the deli category, however, there is room for new entries since food manufacturers have introduced a total of 7 low-sodium meats in the last two years, per Datamonitor, Naples, N.Y. The most recent introduction was by Columbus Salame, which came out with reduced sodium turkey breast in April.

Tom Vierhile, research director at Datamonitor, said one reason why this may be so is the lack of salt substitute options. The biggest entries for no or low-sodium products are coming from cereals, chips, soups, meals and entrees. But consumers are more inclined to read food labels today than in the past, which may explain why companies like Sara Lee are jumping on the bandwagon, Vierhile said.

Sara Lee spent $49 million advertising its Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farms and Ball Park brands in the U.S. through September of this year (excluding online), per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Last year, the company spent $54 million overall.