If you must replace sugar...
Despite lingering debate over sugar’s role in obesity, the food industry is on a tear to reduce or replace sugar in many applications.
By Kantha Shelke, Ingredients Editor
Sugar, ubiquitous in the food and beverage industry, will not likely lose its vital role as a sweetener. However, in the current environment, nearly every company is striving to develop healthier products by simply reducing or replacing sugar with non-glycemic alternatives. The controversy around the ingredient is bound to persist, at least until consumers adopt healthier lifestyles with physical activity and moderate dietary habits.
The alleged rapid weight loss effects of low-glycemic diets such as Atkins and South Beach led consumers to adopt the notion of "good carbs" and "bad carbs." Consumers classify sugar among the latter. They also increasingly believe weight may be managed simply by reducing sugar intake and balancing "energy intake" with "energy consumption." They believe they can achieve this balance by cutting down on sugar.
Consequently, “reduced sugar,” “no sugar,” and “no added sugar” are gaining momentum as compelling marketing messages. Consumers have been led to believe these descriptors are mandatory for certain categories, such as children’s products and beverages. Sugar-free and reduced-calorie diet beverages garner increasingly larger market shares in the U.S.
The growing market appeal of descriptors such as “smart carbs,” “net carbs,” “net impact carbs” and “effective carbs” has helped sugar replace fat as the nutrient to reduce or eliminate in the product development plans of most food companies. Other marketing messages concurring on the benefits of lowering sugar consumption also have made processors believe that reducing or eliminating sugar is a way to deliver high nutritional value and enhance their market appeal. But it’s not that easy.Simple sugar makeovers
Successful product reformulations include the direction set by Coca-Cola, Atlanta, which repositioned Minute Maid (www.minutemaid.com
) Premium Light orange juice with half the sugar and calories of regular orange juice. The company touts it as “for those who want to reduce caloric intake but still want excellent nutrition.”
General Mills (www.generalmills.com
), Minneapolis, employed a blend of sugar and the Splenda brand of suraclose to reduce the sugar content of Trix, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cocoa Puffs by 75 percent to appeal to health-conscious parents. In that same category, Kellogg Co. (http://www.kelloggs.com
), Battle Creek, Mich., enhanced various fruit flavors to transform Froot Loops into a one-third less sugar version without noticeably impacting the taste or by adding artificial sweeteners.
Clever juxtapositions of food products and weight loss diets are now driving the reduced sugar and sugar-free category â and shaping some iconic brands into destination products for specific lifestyles. Established brand marketers such as Kraft, Glenview, Ill., and Anglo-Dutch Unilever are collaborating with coherent weight-loss and management philosophies such as the South Beach Diet and Atkins Diet, respectively, to develop new product offerings.
Kraft in October rolled out a variety of its branded products with a “South Beach Diet recommended” button. Sugar reduction is just one of the adjustments made in some of the products.
Meanwhile up-and-coming brands like the EAS Advantage brand (associated the popular Bill Phillips Body-for-Life program) and Zone Perfect Nutrition (from Harvard nutrition professor Barry Sears) market their lower-sugar fare to their bands of followers.
In the confectionery aisle, candy makers have made headway by repositioning long-existing products that once were aimed squarely at conventional diabetic markets as low-carb or sugar-free.
On the other hand, Armand Hammer, founder of Atlanta-based Innovative Candy Concepts (www.tootarts.com), revamped his product portfolio by converting to formulations that contain no sugar and which are 50-60 percent lower in calories than the originals. The revisions contain no refined sugar and use sucralose, glycerin and acesulfame K (marketed under the brand name Sunette) to enhance sweetening by blends of fruit juice concentrates. Hammer explained that his product developers “decided to stay away from sugar alcohols because of the associated mild laxative effect.”
The sweetener landscape
Refined sugar, one of the foundations of international trade for centuries, is consumed at a per-capita level of around 46 lbs in the U.S. High-potency sweeteners, in contrast, were discovered only in the recent decades, and only a handful have been approved for use in the U.S.
Sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame K and saccharin are the leaders among the 20 or so high-potency sweeteners in the marketplace. The total retail sugar and sweeteners market in the U.S. is estimated at $2.1 billion.
|Note to Plant Ops|
Because of intense sweetness, high potency sweeteners need to be used in very minute quantities. It is best to request pre-blends of the sweetener with a commonly used food ingredient to match the large-scale environment of standard manufacturing processes and reduce any dosage error. Pre-blending also ensures adequate distribution in the manufacturing mix.
Particle size is a critical attribute when ordering high potency sweeteners. Many vendors can provide custom granulation to reduce dusting and improve flow characteristics during manufacture, as well as ensure quick dissolution in dry mixes when used by consumers.
Consult with vendors to identify the appropriate packaging material for each sweetener blend. Sweeteners of low solubility may be packed in permeable (and less expensive) materials, while highly hygroscopic sweeteners require impermeable packaging materials and controlled conditions to ensure stability.
In general, as with any other powder or dry ingredients, operations involving dry sweeteners and sweetener blends should avoid or minimize exposure to high humidity. Packages with a tight seal and storage under dry, moderate temperatures can help prolong shelf-life, whether in liquid or powdered form.