Sixty-four percent of the food and beverage industry thinks sugar reduction in the confectionery and bakery sectors will present the biggest challenge in spite of ingredient innovations, according to a recent poll conducted during a live webinar hosted by Food Ingredients First. The second most difficult was the beverage sector at 20%.
Another poll conducted during the webinar asked participants to choose which was healthier — a carbonated soft drink with 10 grams of sugar or an apple with 10 grams of sugar. Sixty-five percent of respondents said that they couldn't tell given the label information, while 35% said they could.
New product launches making sugar-related claims are growing, according to Food Ingredients First. It cited an Innova Market Insights analysis of these launches — which included claims of low sugar, sugar-free and sugar-reduced — and found these products made up fewer than 5% of all global launches in 2013 but had increased to 6.2% by 2017.
Sugar reduction has become a major focus for manufacturers and consumers, but the transition is easier said than done, particularly since consumers don't usually want to lose out on sweetness. That is probably more true for Americans. According to Euromonitor data, Americans use an average of 126 grams of sugar per day while people in other parts of the world consume 34 grams daily.
For confectionery and bakery manufacturers, it's not simply a matter of reducing the amount of sugar going into a product. The texture, crumb, mouthfeel, volume and weight all need to be taken into consideration.
Ashley Baker, vice president of research development and applications for the Kerry Group, spoke during the webinar and said consumers perceive products with less sugar as being better for them, but they also believe that taste can be affected as a result.
"When it comes to reformulation, not only do you have to replace the impact regarding sweetness, but you have to deal with the fact that you have taken the weight out of the product," he said. "You could probably replace the taste of sugar with a combination of sweeteners, but when replacing the bulk, you could look at fibers and hydrocolloids to put back in what you have essentially taken out."
When attempting to substitute cane sugar with alternative sweeteners, there isn't any single ingredient that will completely do the job of standing in for what has been reduced or removed.
Courtney Gaine, president and CEO of the Sugar Association, recently told Food Dive that when an alternative sweetener, such as stevia or monk fruit, is added to a product formulation, it has to have one or more additional ingredients included in order to approximate the sweetness of cane sugar and the weight it brings.
As food makers experiment to work around these issues, they also have to keep an eye on the bottom line. Even though the naturally derived sweeteners market has grown at a rapid clip, stevia and monk fruit are still a small proportion of the total. They are more expensive than high-intensity sweeteners produced synthetically, plus they continue to have problems with aftertaste.
Whatever approach food makers take, they have to be mindful of transparency to respond to consumer demand for less sugar in foods and beverages. And since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is requiring that added sugars be included on the 2020 Nutrition Facts panel update, more attention will be paid to ingredients. In addition, consumers care about total calories, so that may be the bottom line for many people as they reach for their next sweet treat.