The sugar reduction trend is making way for alternative sweeteners

The sugar reduction trend is making way for alternative sweeteners

(Image credit: Sweegen)

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The pandemic has certainly accelerated consumer interest in general health and wellness, and how we eat has dominated the trend. The food and drink category is an easy place for people to start changing their habits in hopes of improving their health and Sugar was one of the ways that consumers adjust their eating habits.

“As part of this broader health trend, the sugar reduction trend now claims the number one spot as the leading food and beverage trend,” he said Casey McCormick, Vice President of Global Innovation at product developer Sweegen on sugar reduction.

A Cargill survey also found this to be true, with more than half of those surveyed saying they pay attention to the total and added sugars in products, as well as the types of sweeteners.

“We asked consumers how they try to manage their health and well-being, and we found that reducing sugar is the #1 way consumers think processed foods and beverages could be better” , Carla Saunders, senior market manager for high-intensity sweeteners at Cargill, agreed FoodNavigator.

However, reducing sugar consumption does not mean that consumers will give up sweet-tasting foods and drinks. Many of the classic sweet categories are ripe for innovation with the addition of alternative sweeteners.

“The top categories for reducing sugar are soft drinks, hard seltzer, alcohol-based beverages and sports nutrition products,” McCormick said. “We’re also seeing a lot of activity in dairy, snacks and baked goods. Hidden sugars in savory applications like condiments and marinades are also becoming increasingly important.”

Stevia leads the category

One of the most popular sugar substitutes is stevia. McCormick shared that Sweegen sees the ingredient as a great innovation tool for the entire food and beverage industry, and data from Innova Market Insights showed that there has been a 27 percent increase in new product releases containing stevia.

“Consumers explored and embraced plant-based foods, which fueled interest in zero-calorie plant-based sweeteners like stevia and fruit-based sweet proteins like brazzein and thaumatin,” he said.

Other plant-based sweeteners such as monk fruit are growing in popularity and are being incorporated into the products of major CPG brands such as Capri Sun drinks and Chobani yogurt. However, the sweetener is still relatively new compared to the established stevia, which is used across categories and recognized by consumers for both its nutritional and sustainability benefits, according to McCormick.

“Brands are under pressure to create great-tasting, better-for-you foods and beverages with fewer or zero grams of sugar,” he added. “Influential consumers like millennials in particular are more demanding of these changes. To succeed with this cohort, consumer brands are realizing that they must either reformulate new products or lose interest in new products that deliver on the promise of zero sugar from a plant-based source of natural origin.”

Focus on the taste

“In the last two decades of sugar reduction, we’ve really learned that no sweetener solution can solve every problem,” McCormick said. “Each product must be approached holistically to create a customized solution that meets all parameters required by the brand – taste, cost, availability and consumer acceptance.”

One of the biggest challenges for any brand in reducing sugar content is the task of masking bitterness or other off-flavor notes. Sweegen has developed a range of bitter blockers for this problem, and McCormick claims that brands are not expected to completely reduce the sugar content of products right away. A scaled approach is often recommended to perfect the taste of new ingredient formulations.

“Brands have many opportunities to grow in this space, but the products need to taste great for repeat purchases and meet consumer priorities like reduced sugar,” he said.

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