17 Jul 2019 — The use of sweeteners is barreling towards the mainstream. Major industry players are gravitating toward sweetener reformulations and inspiring innovation to respond to the growing need for sugar reduction. From tapping into the plant-based trend to sugar reduction and its linked health benefits, sweeteners are a promising space with the potential to revolutionize the industry status quo. However, industry experts highlight the difficulties in replacing the functional aspect of sugar in products, but a host of attempts to do so have come to the fore.
An Innova Consumer Lifestyle and Attitudes Survey (2018), found that nearly seven out of ten consumers across the countries surveyed (US, UK, France, Germany, China and Brazil) have reduced their sugar intake. This is particularly so among the over 55 age group, with consumers in France and Brazil the most likely to be reducing sugar in their diet. Consumers are also cutting back on sweet snacks more than savory.
“Food and beverage manufacturers are looking for much more than a traditional well-rounded source of sweetness. Sweeteners are now expected to allow brands to make other label claims around calorie and sugar reduction and demonstrate a commitment to a more ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’ product offering,” Shaun Richmond, Global Vice President of Sweeteners at Layn, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
In this space, Layn recently launched Lovia, a platform which combines monk fruit mogrosides with specific steviol glycosides to enable more profound sugar reduction with a sugar-like taste. The plant-based and “free-from” movements are “picking up steam across global food and beverage markets” and monk fruit is becoming a front-running sweetener solution that meets consumer demands, Richmond says.
“Consumers want natural, low sugar and clean label products,” says Primož Artač, CEO of Tosla.“Consumers are seeking better-for-you products. They want natural, low sugar and clean label products. They don’t like to consume ingredients which they are not familiar with and, therefore, have a tendency to reject non-sugar sweeteners,” Primož Artač, CEO of Tosla, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
An array of national policies are also encouraging the use of sweeteners, as obesity and diabetes rates increase globally and are linked to sugar consumption. Public Health England (PHE), for example, has launched two separate reformulation programs to tackle the obesity epidemic – the sugar reduction program and calorie reduction program. The use of alternative sweeteners such as allulose, stevia and sucralose have come to the fore as a solution which allow for calorie reduction and sugar reduction, while still maintaining sweetness. Other alternatives with potential include nitamycin, organic blue agave amber nectar, ultragrain pasta, pectin, isolated soy protein and green mandarin essential oil.
Changing consumer demands
Sugar reduction is becoming a major dietary target for consumers and this is manifesting itself most clearly in the Baby Boomer demographic (born 1946-1964). Innova Market Insights research shows that one in two US Boomers have been reducing their sugar intake or buying more reduced-sugar products, while two in five are cutting back on their consumption of sweet snacks.
This trend is supported by research into the typical shopping basket. “Boomers are below-average purchasers of certain sweet products such as chocolate, desserts and ice cream, and snack bars,” says Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights.
Katharina Pueller, Director, Natural Sweetener Business at Sweegen, tells FoodIngredientsFirst that manufacturers will increasingly adapt to the evolving consumer demand for healthier sweeteners in their formulations. Moreover, consumers will look closely at ingredient labels and consciously pick products sweetened with healthy, non-GMO, plant-based sweeteners, she notes. The company’s latest innovation is stevia sweetener Bestevia e+, a blend of novel steviol glycosides containing Reb E, that has a sugar-like taste at a price equivalent to sugar.
“Stevia has gained very favorable awareness among consumers in many regions. It is calorie-free and generates zero glycemic effect, tapping into the trend of reducing sugar with a plant-sourced solution. It is ideal to be used in most food and beverages applications that Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)/ World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has approved,” Dr. Mel Jackson, CSO of Sweet Green Fields, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Globally, the use of stevia leaf sweetener in food and beverage products grew at an accelerated pace in 2018,” Maga Malsagov, PureCircle’s CEO, tells FoodIngredientsFirst. PureCircle offers a range of stevia leaf sweeteners, including Reb M. “These sweeteners help beverage and food companies increase their offerings of zero- and low-calorie products without sacrificing taste,” he adds.
Challenging aspects in formulation
Sugar plays a multi-dimensional role in formulations, not only as a sweetener but also as a bulking agent, preservative, flavor enhancer, coloring agent, viscosity modifier and anticoagulant, according to Artač. Tosla’s CEO also notes that the industry is struggling to replace sugar as various other additives are needed to cover all the functional roles sugar plays in a food system.
According to Richmond, replicating the rounded sweetness of sugar with plant-based high-intensity sweeteners requires expertise in formulation and an understanding of the synergies these sweeteners have with other ingredients and limitations within certain formulations.
Sugar plays a multi-dimensional role in formulations, not only as a sweetener but also as a bulking agent and preservative.For instance, baking can be a challenge as stevia and monk fruit don’t bulk and brown as sugar does but, with the right technical expertise, companies have been successful in launching baked goods on the market that carry label claims that consumers desire, while also delivering an enjoyable taste profile.
Bakery is a challenge for stevia sweeteners,” Pueller notes. “Sugar has many functions in bakeries, it not only provides sweetness but also provides a majority of the bulk and helps with browning. Fillers can be used to compensate for that bulk.”
“Sugar reduction doesn’t mean that sugar can be simply replaced by a zero or low-calorie sweetener. The functions of sugar need to be taken care of by applying polyols and fibers that provide the bulk, gelatin that builds back mouthfeel and other ingredients,” Jackson highlights.
Recently, Sweet Green Fields and Tate & Lyle jointly launched their newest product innovation – ZOLESSE Natural Flavor. ZOLESSE is a glycosylated steviol glycoside that enables manufacturers to maintain a short ingredients list, Jackson says. “When it is used in combination with stevia sweeteners it modifies the overall taste and sweetness giving a more rounded profile with reduced bitterness and less lingering aftertaste, helping formulators to achieve the taste they want.”
Optimal applications for sweeteners
Stevia and monk fruit are well suited to many applications but beverage, dairy, tabletop and sports nutrition applications are seeing the majority of growth, Richmond notes. “Trends such as low- and mid-calorie, zero or reduced sugar, as well as the rapidly growing ketogenic and plant-based trends, are all popular reasons for increased use of sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit,” he says.
From an NPD point of view, beverages are easiest to work with, says Artač. As sugar is mostly added to beverages only to sweeten them; it makes it easy to replace it with a non-sugar sweetener.
Malsagov says that PureCircle’s stevia leaf ingredients can be used in a variety of food and beverage categories including carbonated soft drinks, flavored milk, yogurt, iced tea, juice, confectionery, sports drinks and tabletop sweeteners, to name a few. There is also significantly increasing potential in ice cream and baked goods, he notes.
Artač believes that the industry will continue to see new and exciting sweeteners on the market, but sugar will forever remain the “gold standard.” “I think the idea for innovators is to imitate sugars’ functional properties as much as possible, while satisfying market needs, such as naturalness, affordability and low metabolic response,” he says.
High-intensity sweeteners are seeing significant growth in the food and beverage industry. Key suppliers are making significant investments in understanding and developing different minor glycosides and mogrosides that deliver an improved taste profile over previous stevia and monk fruit products available. “Sweetener platforms that use these new solutions in proprietary blends and with other natural flavors will continue to deliver improvements and stretch the capabilities of plant-based high-intensity sweeteners across many different applications,” Richmond notes.
“We anticipate food and beverage companies will continue to increase their use of stevia as their go-to, non-GMO, sweetening solution, as well as using stevia as a functional ingredient. This will provide consumers a great-tasting, plant-based ingredient they desire,” says Malsagov.
Hurdles in formulation exist, despite sweeteners’ already wide use but the industry is expected to respond with more innovation. The market is ripe for sugar replacements and the potential for growth seems more significant than ever before.