A pinch of good health

Tata Chemicals is once again elevating the status of salt, the humblest of seasonings and one of its main products, by fortifying it with iron in addition to iodine.

Tata Chemicals, having attained success with Tata Salt, its pioneering iodine-fortified salt brand, has now embarked on the double fortification of salt with iron, in addition to iodine. Aptly named Tata Salt Plus, the new product, currently being manufactured in Mithapur, is retailing at Rs20 per kg.

The iodisation of salt was a campaign that ensured an enduring legacy of health and well-being for millions of individuals across India. By combating severe iodine deficiency, iodised salt managed to bring down the incidence of goitre by almost 76 percent.

Iodisation has become hygiene for products in the packaged salt category. But this was not so two decades ago. Iodine deficiency disorders affected large sections of populations across the world. Food fortification was chosen as a strategy to combat micronutrient deficiencies, as it was the most effective way to deliver micronutrients, such as iodine, to the masses. Tata Chemicals pioneered the salt iodisation movement in India by launching India's first branded iodised salt – Tata Salt.

Now the company is working to treat iron deficiency, another critical micronutrient deficiency that affects almost every fourth person in the world. Anaemia is a global public health problem, affecting both developing and developed countries, with major consequences for human health and social and economic development. It occurs at all stages of the life cycle, but is more prevalent in adolescents, pregnant women and young children.

The National Family Health Survey-3 has indicated that iron deficiency affects 55 percent of women, over 70 percent of children and 25 percent of men in India, across all socioeconomic classes. Among women of reproductive age, 51 percent were seen to be affected.

Ashvini Hiran, chief operating officer, Consumer Products, Tata Chemicals, says, "During our market research, we learned that salt is seen as a nutrient carrier by a lot of consumers. Another factor that works in its favour is that salt is self-regulatory in nature, so a person will eat a specific quantity of salt per day, unlike other staple commodities like sugar. Therefore, intake of nutrients provided through salt can be easily regulated. The other major advantage is that salt is consumed by all socio-economic sections of society."

The advantage of using Tata Salt Plus is that at an incremental cost of just 3 paise per person (for a family of five), it can provide 50 percent of an individual's daily iron requirement, assuming a daily consumption of 10g of salt per person. This makes it far more cost-effective compared to more expensive iron-rich foods like leafy vegetables, dry fruits, chicken, mutton and iron supplements. Also, the fact that vegetarian foods have low bio-available iron content compared to non-vegetarian food makes Tata Salt Plus a welcome addition to the diet.

The double-fortified, or iron-fortified, iodised salt formulation was developed by the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad. Tata Chemicals partnered with NIN in developing and perfecting the formulation, which was later tested in various types of food preparations. Perfection was achieved in whiteness and free flow. In terms of taste, there was no perceptible difference between iodised salt and double-fortified salt.

Mr Hiran says, "Since vacuum-evaporated salt is a purer form of salt, we decided to use vacuum-evaporated salt as a base salt in the making of double-fortified salt. We worked together with NIN. To obtain a product conforming to safety, efficacy and acceptability standards, multiple iterations were required, and we introduced some scientific interventions to achieve all these."

The vacuum evaporation method is technologically more advanced than the method used to obtain solar salt. It enables the removal of more impurities and ensures a purer salt. Incidentally, Tata Salt is one of the two Indian salt brands that are manufactured using the vacuum evaporation method.

The successful development of the product, however, was only half the battle won. Tata Chemicals faced a bigger challenge in terms of educating consumers about the need for iron-fortified salt in the context of the widespread prevalence of anaemia in the country.

Mr Hiran says, "Through our educational campaign, we informed people about the symptoms and prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia. The data says that every second child in India is anaemic, and that the problem occurs across regions and population groups, afflicting the poor and rich alike. Through Tata Salt Plus, we offer an effective solution to the iron needs of the entire family."

The company created awareness about the brand and the problem of iron deficiency anaemia through advertising and consumer activations, including street plays and promotions in schools. As a result of the sustained effort, demand for the product steadily grew and Tata Chemicals and Tata Salt Plus were able to taste success in the first phase of the launch. The brand has already been launched in North India and parts of South India. Nationwide roll-out will be completed by March next year. Meanwhile, various state governments have expressed interest in the product.

Tata Chemicals' innovations and efforts have led to the Tata Salt brand being entrenched in the mind space of consumers for decades now. With Tata Salt Plus, the company embarks on a new mission, that of eradicating iron deficiency anaemia from the nation, and making India iron-strong.