Sweetening the sugar bill

FEATURED SPEAKER Fi Conference 2019 
Prompted by public health requirements from consumers and authorities alike, reducing sugar content is a priority for F&B manufacturers. But what options do product developers really have to reduce sugar content without affecting the product? And how can consumers be reassured about the naturalness of these alternatives? In this interview, Emma Schofield, Senior Analyst at Mintel, reflects on the sugar reduction challenge.

Emma Schofield, Senior Analyst at Mintel

Sugar reduction has been on food producers’ agenda for quite some time. What are the main challenges?
“The battle between health and taste i.e. reducing sugar without impacting the sensory qualities of treat and indulgence products is a key challenge for sugar reduction. Many consumers show some reticence towards sugar reduction in treat or indulgence categories like chocolate confectionery. For example, 53% of UK consumers agree that reduced sugar chocolate feels less of a treat than regular chocolate, and 30% agree reduced sugar chocolate with added fibre would be appealing, according to Mintel report Chocolate Confectionery - UK - May 2019. As such, portion size reduction remains a relevant sugar reduction tactic in these categories. In categories like yogurts or breakfast cereals, where many consumers look for healthy options, sugar reduction may be easier because consumers may be more interested in health than indulgence in such categories.”

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What ingredients are most popular for sugar reduction in Europe, North America and Asia?
“Artificial sweeteners are prevalent in reduced sugar products like carbonated soft drinks. In 2018, 29% of European carbonated soft drink launches contained an artificial sweetener, up from 23% in 2016, according to Mintel GNPD ingredients database. However, despite the rise of artificial sweeteners in carbonated soft drink launches in Europe, producers should consider that many consumers are concerned about the safety and healthfulness of such ingredients. For example, in 2018, only 24% of French consumers said they trusted the food industry to only use sweeteners if they were safe. In 2018, 68% of Italian consumers agreed that they were concerned about the artificial ingredients in carbonated soft drinks. Accordingly, a key challenge food producers face is delivering sugar reduction while maintaining clean ingredients lists and a natural image in products’.”

What are the new upcoming ingredients for sugar reduction? What should producers be on the lookout for?
“Earlier in 2019, Nestlé announced plans to use cocoa pod waste (cocoa pulp) to replace refined white sugar in chocolate confectionery. Cocoa pulp naturally contains sugar, fibres and other nutrients. In addition to supporting sugar reduction (like other fibre-based ingredients) using cocoa pulp waste also helps to tackle food waste by using an ingredient that is typically discarded. Interest in naturalness and clean label will drive demand for ingredients that deliver sugar reduction – without compromising clean label. Fibre ingredients that are of plant origin can help to deliver sugar reduction in categories like ice cream or chocolate confectionery, while maintaining a cleaner label than bulk sweeteners that have an artificial image.”

Are there specific F&B categories where sugar reduction is mainly happening and why?
“Sugar taxes have been implemented in countries like the UK, where the ‘Soft Drinks Industry Levy’ came into effect in April 2018. Health initiatives like sugar taxes are driving sugar reduction in categories where ‘added sugars’ are prevalent. The carbonated soft drinks category is a category where ‘sugar free’ claims are growing rapidly in Europe. In the 12 months ending Aug 2015, 6% of launches featured a ‘sugar free’ claim, which increased to 17% in the 12 months ending August 2019.”

What are some of the more interesting product reformulations that you have observed on the market?
“Kolibri Drinks has launched a drink product that gives consumers the freedom to decide how much sugar they add to their drink. In Kolibri’s drink product, the sugar has been removed, and the new drink bottle features a specially designed cap containing a sugary liquid, that allows consumers to add in as much, or as little, sweetness as they like. Kolibri’s ‘sweetened to taste’ drink taps into the personalisation trend, as well as the sugar reduction trend.”

What is the consumer’s acceptance of different sugar replacers and has anything changed in the last year in that regard?
“Disruptive brand Halo Top uses erythritol in conjunction with stevia in their successful better-for-you frozen dessert range. However, despite the success of Halo Top, there is a huge need to positively shape consumers' attitudes towards bulk sweeteners. In Europe, consumers' attitudes towards these sweeteners is largely negative, with consumers linking words such as 'heavily processed' to these sweeteners much more strongly than positive words such as 'natural' or 'healthy'. Erythritol or xylitol are disadvantaged by their names, which are not label friendly, sounding chemical and unfamiliar. Brands should take steps to link sweeteners like erythritol and xylitol back to a plant source, to build a more natural image. Indeed, in 2018, just 2% of French consumers agreed that erythritol was healthy and natural. Similarly, 6% of German consumers agreed that xylitol is healthy, and 4% agree that xylitol is natural.”

What kind of claims are consumers mainly looking for in terms of sugar reduction?
“According to Mintel GNPD ingredients database, ‘no added sugar’, ‘sugar free’ and ‘low/reduced sugar’ claims are more prevalent in drink launches than in food launches in Europe. In Europe, the percentage of food and drink launches that featured a ‘no added sugar’ claim rose from 3% in the 12 months ending August 2015, to 5% in the 12 months ending August 2019. Heightened consumer awareness of the health risks of consuming too much sugar is likely to continue to drive demand for food and drink products that help people to reduce their sugar consumption.”

“In some categories ‘no added sugar’ claims are growing very rapidly. In the breakfast cereals category, for example, the percentage of launches that featured a ‘no added sugar’ claim rose from 6% in the 12 months ending August 2014, to 17% in the 12 months ending August 2019.”

What are your predictions for the F&B industry over the next 3-5 years?
“Health departments across the globe are forcing the food industry to play their role in helping consumers to eat less sugar, due to the rising prevalence of dietary related diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Consequently, sugar reduction is likely to remain a key focus for consumers and the food industry, whether overt sugar reduction, such as ‘sugar free’ carbonated soft drinks, or more covert, gradual sugar reduction in categories like yogurts or sauces. The need for sugar reduction solutions that deliver on taste and clean label, as well as sugar reduction, are likely to become increasingly sought after.”

Do not miss Emma Schofield’s presentation on ‘What’s next for sugar reduction in Europe?’ at the Fi Conference 2019 on 3 December at 11:30.