Talenti has developed a line of gelato sweetened with monk fruit juice concentrate, sugar and erythritol, a zero-calorie form of sugar alcohol, according to FoodBev Media. The products contain 120 calories per serving and half the amount of sugar found in traditional ice cream.
Company founder Josh Hochschuler, who launched the gelato brand in 2003 and sold it to Unilever in 2014, told FoodBev the new products were created in response to customers looking for better-for-you, lower-sugar gelato options.
Monk fruit, an emerging sweetener in the U.S. market, is 300 times sweeter than sugar, according to Food Navigator.
Talenti's portfolio includes fat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and kosher items, making its product line accessible to virtually any gelato consumer. Its new monk fruit-sweetened flavors further broaden its health halo, making it attractive to consumers who are wary of high sugar levels.
It's interesting the company chose to formulate with little-known monk fruit rather than stevia, the natural sweetener market's star player. Monk fruit is significantly cheaper than sugar but more expensive and less sweet than stevia. The sweetener solution also has a fruity aftertaste that can impact product flavors.
Still, several companies are investing R&D into monk fruit-based solutions. Senomyx has developed a zero-calorie, high-intensity sweetener called siratose that's extracted from monk fruit. Archer Daniels Midland also has added a monk fruit product to its sweetener lineup.
Talenti isn't the only ice cream maker to debut varieties sweetened with monk fruit — better-for-you ice cream brand Enlightened and DanoneWave's So Delicious dairy-free brand also use formulas that are sweetened with the ingredient, as well as erythritol. These manufacturers have undoubtedly been watching the meteoric rise of Halo Top, the low-sugar, low-fat ice cream brand with its per-serving calorie count prominently displayed on its package. Halo Top became the No. 1-selling ice cream pint in the U.S. last year, and frozen dessert companies are racing to reduce their sugar levels in order to capture similar consumer attention.
It seems that Unilever, which owns Talenti, Ben & Jerry's and Breyers, is determined to gain market share back from the upstart. Last summer, Breyers debuted pints of low-calorie, high-protein ice cream called "Breyers delights" featuring the calorie count printed in big letters on the packaging — just like Halo Top. And, just last week, Ben & Jerry's announced a line of low-fat, low-calorie ice cream called "Moo-phoria."
There is certainly a growing trend here, but the question is whether or not the average consumer cares much about sugar levels and calorie counts when they're dipping into an indulgent treat such as gelato. Will the fact that some of Talenti's products are partially sweetened with monk fruit make a difference to shoppers? Or do consumers organize better-for-you treats like Halo Top and indulgent ice cream brands into different occasion categories, leaving them with different expectations for each? For now it's unclear, but Unilever seems confident that the star power of its ice cream brands will be enough to lure back consumers.