Sugar and Calorie Reduction: Trends, Perceptions, Formulation
Experts at Tate & Lyle and Mintel jointly presented a webinar during SHIFT20 on the latest research and trends in sugar and calorie reduction, providing information on consumer perceptions, in-market performance, and the art of formulating for great taste.
By Margaret Malochleb
Experts at Tate & Lyle and Mintel jointly presented a webinar during SHIFT20 on the latest research and trends in sugar and calorie reduction, providing information on consumer perceptions, in-market performance, and the art of formulating for great taste. Insights were provided by Stephanie Mattucci, associate director, food science, Mintel; Beth Nieman Hacker, director global market research, Tate & Lyle; and Jim Carr, director, global ingredient technology, sweeteners, Tate & Lyle.
Hacker opened the session with an overview of Tate & Lyle’s consumer research conducted in January 2020. Unsurprisingly, the research showed that four out of five U.S. consumers are reading ingredient labels, with 57% looking at calories and four in 10 paying attention to calories and sugars. Many consumers indicated that they planned to consume somewhat less or much less sugar in the next 12 months, along with consuming more fiber.
Research from Mintel confirms the trend toward increased awareness of nutrition. “One thing we’ve seen is that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted consumers to pay greater attention to their health,” explained Mattucci. “Already, 37% of U.S. respondents have agreed that they have put a higher priority on eating healthy since the outbreak.”
Acknowledging that sugar reduction has been a priority for a number of years, Mattucci noted an increase in sugar-related claims such as no added sugar, sugar-free, and low in reduced sugar “climbing across global food and drink launches. And considering how ongoing concerns related to sugar intakes and health are persisting, there’s going to be opportunities to innovate with reduced-sugar products going forward.”
So how are ingredient companies responding to consumers’ concerns when it comes to formulating new products? Mintel research shows that while there has been growth in stevia and monk fruit during the past five years, artificial sweetener use has declined. In fact, recent patent activity shows that more than 250 patents related to stevia were filed between 2016 and 2018. Additionally, between 2015 and 2019, stevia was found in 97% of global food and drink launches that contained a non-artificial low-calorie sweetener.
So how do consumers feel about stevia? Mintel research shows that U.S. consumers perceive products that contain stevia similarly to a benchmark, except products sweetened with stevia are more likely to be perceived as healthy. For example, food sweetened with stevia was reported to be perceived as healthy by 50% of consumers versus 43% for foods without stevia.
Online research conducted by Tate & Lyle confirms this. In a consumer test, 58% of flavored water consumers expressed purchase intent for a product sweetened with an erythritol/stevia extract blend, rating it 8, 9, or 10 on a scale of 10, whereas 70% of consumers rated the product sweetened with stevia extract alone 8, 9, or 10.
Although consumers are concerned about health, they are also torn between health and taste. According to the International Food Information Council, 88% of consumers say that taste has the greatest impact on food and beverage purchases. And research from The Food Institute shows that almost three-quarters of consumers find sweet snacks appealing. Among the stevia-sweetened products consumers find most appealing are yogurt, juices, ice cream, and meal replacement drinks.
Of course, the key to any successful product launch is creating the right formulation. According to Carr, when it comes to sweetness reduction, that means two things: sugar removal and the rebuilding of taste, including body and mouthfeel.
“A truly sugar-like taste experience requires the careful selection of sweetener and other ingredients to optimize taste quality, appearance, processing, and product shelf life,” he explains. “A range of sweeteners, many of which are complementary or act synergistically, combined with ingredients such as bulking agents, fibers, texturants, and bulk sweeteners … can be essential elements of reformulation toolboxes for food product development.”
Carr adds that stevia sweeteners are not a single ingredient but a range, which has seen significant innovation aimed at specific food applications and sugar reduction targets. “In terms of sensory performance, the range of stevia sweeteners now available delivers different sweetness potency, temporal or time-intensity profiles, and different sweetness qualities,” he notes.
Explaining the difference among first-, second-, and third-generation stevia sweeteners, Carr says that first- and second-generation stevias have application in low- to mid-sugar reduction levels, while third-generation premium stevias “can deliver deep sugar reduction with clean, sweet taste characteristics. The choice of which type of stevia sweetener to use will depend on the level of sweetness you’re trying to replace.”
Carr concluded by outlining strategies for reducing formula costs using stevia-based sweetening solutions, selecting stevia as the sole sweetener in a sugar-reduced product, and improving the overall sweetness quality of a product formulation by leveraging several different ingredients in combination, for an optimized result.
Information from hundreds of SHIFT20 exhibitors will be available for six months following the conclusion of the live virtual event.
Margaret Malochleb is associate editor of Food Technology magazine.