As sugar becomes more central to the obesity debate and the target of taxes, its reduction is key for many consumers and a reformulation driver for manufacturers. Two in five surveyed US consumers use sweeteners because they enjoy sweet things but want to reduce the calories, as highlighted by Innova Market Insights in its recent webinar on sugar reduction. Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation, highlights the key trends in sugar reduction and substitution, helping manufacturers deliver new indulgences that go “beyond sweetness.”
“Consumers are absolutely trying to avoid sugar, it’s the number one thing we see in terms of avoidance from the consumer point of view. We also know that the industry is feeling regulatory pressure. Sugar taxes are the shot fired across the bow signaling that it’s time for the industry to do something,” explains Williams.
Two in five US consumers use sweeteners “because they like sweet things but want to reduce the calories.” Innova Market Research highlights a steady increase in the use of sweeteners in the US, with a CAGR of 8.2 percent between 2014 to 2018. Gaining strong momentum in NPD this year are thaumatin and allulose – two sugar replacers pegged by the market researcher as sweeteners with considerable potential.
“Thaumatin is an interesting one when looking at blends for sweeteners. It has a kind of unusual name and it’s a little bit difficult to track because it can also be labeled as a natural flavor. In terms of tracking thaumatin, we’ve seen quite a big increase. It also works very well in combination with stevia to provide a more rounded flavor and more mouthfeel,” notes Williams.
She pegs the fructose-resembling sweetener allulose as a “big star of 2020,” following the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules on the declaration of added sugars on food labels. “It has a very favorable regulatory status in the US and is will not be labeled as added sugars. We already see this as very fast growth but only present in a very small number of launches. It has really only just starting to take off and has also needed to wait for regulatory approval.”
“We have the whole natural trend continuing and some artificial sweeteners might not work in a clean label strategy very well. We also know that for some consumers – definitely not the majority, because it is still quite new – think that rules on the declaration of added sugars on food labels.,” explains Williams.
Innova Market Insights further highlights the potential of “value-added, side-stream solutions” to aid in sugar substitution. Williams explains, “Our number one trend for 2020 is ‘Storytelling’. If you have a great story behind something, it’s a great way to also create some consumer interest in this. Upcycled ingredients are hugely on trend, spun with a sustainable angle. In the case of upcycled coffee cherries used in food, the high fiber of this ingredient is a flavor potentiator that can significantly change the mouthfeel of a product. When added to chocolate, it can make a product seem much richer, which lessens the need for sugar.”
Three in five US consumers would rather cut back on sugar than consume alternative sweeteners, underscores Innova Market Insights.
“We did an analysis of new product launches that have sugar-related claims, such as less sugar and reduced sugar. Up from 2014, we saw a significant spike in 2018. This is continuing to increase and will continue for a very long time. Getting the sugar out and keeping the product acceptable to consumers is a tricky thing.”
In April, Nestlé Australia announced the launch of its latest version of Milo, “Our number one trend for 2020 is ‘Storytelling’. next month. After more than two years in development, the launch comes in response to the changing nutritional needs of families down under. General Manager Dairy ANZ at Nestle Oceania, Andrew McIver, says the new product still has the “delicious Milo choc malt taste and crunch.”
Williams envisions this trend as presenting ample opportunities. “What’s interesting about this is the role of soluble fiber in some of these products. This is definitely something that consumers are going to be looking out for. ”
Patent activity is thriving in natural sweeteners. Innova Market Insights notes that 42 percent growth in allulose publications is just one indicator of this research trend. Furthermore, innovations focused on boosting fiber and protein have been featured strongly this year.
In July, Israel-based Better Juice, introduced a “game-changing” enzymatic technology in partnership with Citrosuco, which offers the capability to naturally transform all types of fruit sugars into healthy prebiotic fibers and other non-digestible sugars. Better Juice is marketed as the “first food-tech start-up to develop technology to reduce all types of sugars in orange juice.”
In the same month, Nestlé created a unique new chocolate made entirely from the cocoa fruit, using only the beans and pulp as ingredients. The new chocolate was developed using a “natural approach” and patented technique, which does not require adding any refined sugar. The product debuted in Japan this week.
“We think technology is going to be a big part of sugar reduction and investing in this science is going to be a way to win,” says Williams.
Bitter is back as the “war on sugar” rages on. As consumers are reducing their sugar intake, green vegetables are gaining momentum. Innova Market Insights spotlights the rise of green juices in playing a pivotal role in the sugar reduction phenomenon.
“Green juice is the poster child of a shift in taste of consumers. If you’re going to drink something green, you’re probably going to have to accept a bitter taste. If consumers continue to shift their taste and accept more bitter flavors, that will be a great opportunity to reduce the amount of sugar in products,” says Williams.
On the topic of consumers’ changing tastes, she exemplifies, “I’m an American who has lived in Europe for about 30 years. I notice how much sweeter things taste in the US. Some of the drinks that I used to really enjoy as a teenager now seem way too sweet for me. Consumers can definitely shift their preference for sweetness with just a change.”
In its webinar, Innova Market Insights poses the question of whether strong flavors are exhibiting potential to drive sugar out. Botanicals are currently expanding across categories, with half of consumers surveyed associating floral flavored drinks with freshness and herbal flavored drinks with healthiness.
“We’ve seen a massive increase in floral flavors, but also spice, seed and herb flavors. This is a great way to add a plant halo to your products. Consumers are much more accepting of these flavors than they were in the past.”
Future opportunities for reduced sugar intake are through sour and spicy offerings, as consumer curiosity for novel and unconventional flavors is on the rise. Meanwhile, despite the acquired taste, health benefits of botanical offerings encourage consumers to move away from sugar laden foods.
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