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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 07/18/2011

Should Campbell’s be blasted for restoring salt to soups?

This post has been updated.

You may have heard that Campbell’s plans to go back to making salty soups.

The company laid out its strategy to boost slumping soup sales at a meeting July 12. Noting that its huge investment in developing and marketing low-sodium soups has produced disappointing sales, the company said it would reformulate many of its soups with an emphasis on flavor.

Which means they’ll be adding salt.

Campbell’s re-embrace of salt came just months after the 2010 Dietary Guidelines urged most Americans to cut their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams daily, which the common — though recently disputed — wisdom suggests will benefit our cardiovascular systems.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and others chided Campbell’s for its decision. CSPI argues that if Campbell’s restores salt to dozens of its soup varieties, sodium-sensitive consumers will have fewer choices at the supermarket.

That may be so. But if having those options were so important, why didn’t consumers make a point of buying enough of Campbell’s reduced-sodium soups to make those products worth the company’s while? In a classic damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation, Campbell's has in recent years made a valiant and costly effort to supply the public with reduced-sodium soups. The public responded with a collective “blech” and shunned those soups.

Company officials said they are not abandoning its low-sodium soups..

“Campbell continues to offer more than 90 varieties across our soup portfolio that have been reduced in sodium, providing people with a wide variety of lower sodium choices,” said Juli Mandel Sloves, senior manager, nutrition and wellness communications at Campbell.”

“In fact, Campbell is adding eight new varieties to our popular Healthy Request line -- increasing it from 25 to 33 soups -- all of which contain 410 milligrams of sodium per serving, meet U.S. government criteria for healthy foods, and display the American Heart Association’s heart check mark,” she said. “We continue to provide an array of more than 35 other soups in our lines of condensed, Chunky, Select Harvest and V8 soups that have been reduced in sodium between 10-45 percent in the last few years.”

I have no especial fondness for Campbell’s, which seems to remain plenty profitable despite its not selling as much soup as it would have liked to sell. But it’s a business operating in a capitalist economy, not a public-health agency or nonprofit organization.

I wrote last week about the concept of using your food-buying decisions as "votes." If enough of us had “voted” for reduced-sodium soups, Campbell’s would probably have kept pumping money into producing them.

But we didn’t, so they won’t. That’s just how it goes.

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 07/18/2011

 
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