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Campbell's to add salt back into Select Harvest soups: Good health doesn't sell

July 14, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • The Campbell Soup Co. announces it will raise sodium levels in some of its soups, to the dismay of health advocates (but apparently to Wall Street's delight).
The Campbell Soup Co. announces it will raise sodium levels in some of its… (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles…)

Reducing salt may be healthy for consumers, but it doesn't seem to be going down well for business.

At an investor meeting on Tuesday, Campbell Soup Co.'s incoming chief executive, Denise Morrison, announced an about-face: The company, which won kudos from health advocates for lowering sodium in its soups a few years back, will be adding salt back into its 31 Select Harvest soups in an effort to improve the way they taste.  

The soups, which are marketed as a more natural option made with "real ingredients," initially had about 700 to 800 milligrams of sodium in a serving, Reuters reported.  Company executives -- led by Morrison, who used to head the company's North American soup, sauces and beverages business -- had reduced salt levels to about 480 mg.  Now those levels will shoot back up to 650 mg per serving.  (Healthy Request soups will not get a salt boost.)

Eating too much salt has been widely associated with increased cases of high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, though recently some researchers have raised questions about sodium's negative health effects (see related stories, to left). The FDA recommends no more than 2,300 mg of salt per day. A 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine noted that most Americans get about 3,400 mg each day.  The biggest culprits? Restaurant food and packaged foods, such as canned soups.

Health advocates expressed dismay at Campbell's move.  In a statement released Wednesday, Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, asked, "Why resort to salt?  Why not improve tomato soup [flavor] with more and better-quality tomatoes, or chicken noodle soup with more chicken?"

But Wall Street licked its lips.  Campbell's soup sales have been weak, and the company faces a lawsuit over its soups' lower-sodium labeling, which some consumers have complained is misleading. But after the Tuesday announcement of the salt strategy and other product initiatives focused on improving taste, the company's stock price went up 1.3%.

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