- Ocean Spray partnered with Amai Proteins to develop a cranberry juice that has at least 40% less sugar. The product will feature Amai Protein's designer sweet protein, which the company said is thousands of times sweeter than sugar and offers taste, temperature and acid stability and affordability. The companies did not share a timeline for product development.
- As part of the agreement, the companies plan to apply learnings from this collaboration on future Ocean Spray lower-caloric products. While Ocean Spray currently offers light juice and drink options sweetened with artificial sweeteners, the collaboration with Amai Protein would continue its pursuit of natural options.
- Sweet proteins are the latest front in satisfying consumers' sweet tooth without challenging their waistlines. They offer CPGs such as Ocean Spray and Kraft Heinz an option that avoids the aftertaste issues common with many other natural sweeteners — and add a small dose of protein at the same time.
Sweetening without increasing the sugar content or sacrificing taste has always been a balancing act for food product developers. The challenge has grown as consumers increasingly eschew artificial sweeteners for natural options — a trend amplified by the pandemic, with health consciousness top of mind.
While natural sweeteners such as honey and agave help elevate a product’s taste, they also bring additional calories and sugar. Low calorie plant-based sweeteners such as stevia and monk fruit, which are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, can leave an aftertaste and are more expensive.
Sweet proteins are derived from exotic fruits found along the equatorial belt in countries from China to West Africa. These proteins bind to the tongue’s sweet receptor and provide the sensation of sweetness without the sugar. A small amount of sweet proteins packs a punch: They are much sweeter than sugar, and also contain antioxidants, nutrients and a small amount of protein.
Thaumatin, sourced from the African katemfe fruit and nearly 3,000 times sweeter than sugar, is one of the most commercially available sweet proteins. However, it can also be more expensive. To address this cost issue, Amai Proteins has created “designer” versions it said are 70% to 100% identical.
Fruit juices in particular are ripe for low- and no-calorie sweetener options, especially as consumers and health advocates become more concerned about their sugar content. Fifty-six percent of consumers surveyed by Fona International said they are consuming less sugar than they were one year ago. And several cities across the U.S. have put in place taxes on sugary drinks to discourage consumption — oftentimes with mixed results.
The partnership with Amai Proteins marks one of Ocean Spray’s first applications of natural low-calorie sweeteners to its cranberry product line. It uses artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and acesulfame potassium to sweeten its Ocean Spray Diet and Light juice drinks.
But the company has been pushing its boundaries in recent months. In November, Ocean Spray launched a functional water line called B1U that has no sugars or artificial sweeteners. It also has leveraged its Lighthouse Innovation Incubator to create a line of CBD water called CarryOn and Atoka blended plant-based beverages, which are sweetened with sugar.
Ocean Spray isn’t the only CPG exploring the potential of sweet proteins. In July, Kraft Heinz’s investment arm led a $6.9 million round of funding for Joywell Foods, a California-based food-tech company. Similar to Amai, Joywell applies fermentation in developing its plant-based sweet proteins. Its first application, miraculin, a sweet protein derived from the miracle berry fruit, is reportedly up to 5,500 times as sweet as sugar.
In addition to Ocean Spray, Amai Proteins also has collaborated with companies including PepsiCo and Danone, although its sweet proteins are not yet offered in a commercially available product in the U.S.
For food and beverage companies, a natural, no- or low-calorie sweetener that is cost-effective and has no aftertaste is the unicorn of ingredients. Sweet proteins are perhaps the closest the industry has come. This latest collaboration with Ocean Spray moves the industry one step closer to achieving this goal.