Nobody can eat just one

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A small news item caught my eye. PepsiCo, owner of Lay’s Potato Chips, will start producing chips using specially formulated salt to reduce chips’ sodium content. Yes, you read that correctly. Pepsi has developed designer salt, delivering the same salt bang but with less actual sodium.

At first glance, this announcement seems to be the food equivalent of “clean coal” burning technology. Regardless of combustion efficiencies, particulates still spew into the air. And, with chips, an obese, sodium-pumped state and nation show no sign of slowing consumption.

The simplest answer – eat less, eat better – is, we know, the hardest, but I’m no more interested in being a moralizing scold than I am in angry pronouncements by conservatives that I’m intruding on their rights to die fat and happy. So, let me simply say: your nutrition health is your choice; make a smart one.

Instead, I’m intrigued by the larger meaning behind Pepsi’s announcement.

Potato chip manufacturing is a modern triumph. Pepsi could simply apply less salt to chips but experience and marketing research strongly suggests that people like a particular crisp-salty chip experience. Making and selling unsatisfactory potato chips is a doomed business model. Consequently, Pepsi took the innovation route. By reengineering salt, Pepsi is claiming to reduce sodium intake by 25%.

This idea wasn’t invented from whole-cloth. Pepsi responded to growing public health policy demanding healthy consumer food products while availing itself of publicly funded university science research. Since only 20% of a chip’s salt dissolves on the tongue, affecting taste, Pepsi worked engineering scenarios to chip away at the “untasted” 80%.

Here’s Minnesota’s public policy lesson: we can innovate and grow, or retreat and wither. It’s not just about food processing, although Minnesota is a food processing industry center. Rather, it’s about attitude. Smart investments, reflecting real people’s needs and desires, move Minnesota forward. Let’s follow engineers’ lead, work the problem and make solutions happen because, really, it’s the best option.