For the first time, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans states no more than 10% of daily calories should come from added sugars. This recommendation comes on top of efforts by manufacturers in recent years to limit the amount of added sugars in their products in response to vocal consumers and internal goals.
One issue at play in the background is the food industry's split as to including added sugars on Nutrition Facts labels. Nutrition experts say manufacturers should pay attention to the guidelines and the research showing a link between sugar and diseases such as obesity. Industry advocates such as the Sugar Association say there is a lack of scientific evidence and that they will stand by the science, which will eventually reverse the guideline.
Ongoing research and reductions to the amount of added sugars in food products demonstrate manufacturers are complying with the government's priorities. But can they do more? What's clear is that the industry is making headway, but will have to contend with consumer concerns and communicating consistent transparency to stay on trend and improve bottom lines.
Where do manufacturers go from here?
The Dietary Guidelines, updated every five years by the USDA and HHS, will have important implications for both consumers and food manufacturers, Dr. Frank Hu told Food Dive.
"The awareness among the general public will affect the formulation of the products, purchasing behaviors and consumers' eating habits," Hu said. He was a member of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines advisory committee and is a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard University's school of public health.
Manufacturers will continue to take the Guidelines into consideration. Take Nestle, for example, which in 2007 established a global policy to reduce the amount of sugars in its products. Since 2000, added sugars in Nesquik chocolate powder have been reduced by 35%. Each flavor across the powder and ready-to-drink portfolios now contain 10.6 grams of added sugars, with the balance comprised of lactose, wrote Emily Dimiero, communications specialist for Nestle, in an email. In 2014, 96% of the company's U.S. children's products fell within its own Nestle Nutritional Foundation's sugar criteria.
Numerous food manufacturers are reducing added sugars, including Kind Fruit & Nut granola bars. This spring, certain varieties of the bars will feature between 15% and 50% less added sugars. PepsiCo will begin using flavor booster Sweetmyx S617, developed by Senomyx, in its reformulated products where sugar content and high fructose corn syrup have been reduced. Sensient has introduced a natural functional flavoring ingredient to reduce sugar content in beverages.
Manufacturers are also paying attention to consumers' calls for reasonable portion sizes. Nestle works from the approach that confectionery will always be a category of foods consumers enjoy. That said, the company aims to support the enjoyment by reducing portion sizes, particularly for products where sugar is a major ingredient. The company discontinued a 1.0 ounce (which had 26 grams of sugar) and 0.5 ounce Giant Pixy Stix and replaced them with a 0.42 ounce straw that contains 10 grams of sugar per serving.
What about consumer responsibility?
Dr. Courtney Gaine, interim president and CEO of the Sugar Association, told Food Dive that manufacturers should keep in mind that the Dietary Guidelines are for a total diet and not an individual food level. The association doesn't represent manufacturers. What gets lost in the discussion is that sugars are not just added for sweetness but for functional properties and food safety properties, such as bulking agents, balancing out acidity, and preventing the growth of microorganisms. "Ultimately you have to have a palatable and safe product that maintains the properties people are accustomed to," Gaine said.
What's more, personal responsibility on the part of consumers factors into the equation as people choose what to eat as part of their daily diets.
"I don’t think it is up to a manufacturer to produce every food to comply with all the Dietary Guidelines," Gaine said. "There is no one product or ingredient that makes a diet. I know the food industry is working hard to comply with Dietary Guidelines."