As part of its 2013 commitment to the Partnership for a Healthier America, the company pledged that 75% of its products would be low- or non-fat within three years. The yogurt maker claims that 87% of its products now meet this target, as well as its goal to increase the nutrient density of 10% of its products by adding nutrients and reducing fat and sugar.
The company also said it met its commitment to limit total sugars to 23 grams per six-ounce serving for all children’s products, and 78% of its overall portfolio now meets this target. DanoneWave's sales improved while it was making these changes, indicating that consumers may have been looking for such nutritional improvements. The French multinational’s U.S. brands include Danimals, Dannon, Activia and Oikos.
Until now, the company hasn’t announced changes to its products, preferring to reformulate behind the scenes and bank on consumers not noticing. Although food firms are under pressure to create healthier products, taste is still crucial for sales, and a misstep could cost them dearly. Go too far, too fast, and a manufacturer faces backlash, which is what happened when Lucozade Energy cut sugar by 50% in the UK late last year.
DanoneWave told Fortune that it believes advertising reduced sugar and fat can cause consumers to assume the product won't taste as good, damaging sales. Because of this, Dannon has taken the "stealth health" reformulation strategy, and chosen not to advertise ingredient changes on its packaging or signage.
Many food companies have been giving their portfolios a healthy makeover, either through launching new better-for-you products, reformulating existing ones, acquiring smaller manufacturers of healthy foods, or through a combination of these strategies.
Although DanoneWave did not reveal how it achieved its sugar reductions, when Stonyfield cut sugar from its yogurts, it said it had used different cultures to reduce acidity, thereby reducing the need for added sweetness. It's possible that DanoneWave used the same strategy to meet its goal.
All sorts of companies are pursuing sugar reduction, including those that make more traditionally sugary products. Several major confectioners have committed to lowering the sugar content of their products. Nestlé pledged to cut sugar in some of its U.S. sweets earlier in the year, and to reduce sugar in its Nesquik product. It has also developed a patent-pending hollow sugar molecule, which it claims could reduce sugar in some products by up to 40% without affecting sweetness. Mars has also said it would reduce added sugar in some of its products by 2018.
Sugar content, regardless of whether manufacturers play it up, will only grow in importance among manufacturers selling in the U.S. market. According to research from The NPD Group, consumers are more interested in a product's sugar content — not just the amount of fat or number of calories. The soon-to-come revamped Nutrition Facts label, currently scheduled to be on products by 2018, will pay special attention to sugar content, breaking out products' sugar content as well as how much sugar was added.