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Sugar Alternatives Create Sweet Opportunity

Sugar Alternatives Sugar Alternatives

New trends show a strong market for alternative sweeteners.

Non-GMO Project

When Def Leppard released its hit song, “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” in 1987 its message reiterated the nutrition of the times. Low-fat products were all the rage, though many consumers didn’t realize that the sugar content was increased in cookies, cakes and candies to make them more palatable. Many American children started their days with bowls of fruit-colored, highly sugared cereals and cereal companies encouraged us to eat them with orange juice and buttered toast as “part of a naturally balanced breakfast.”

We’ve come a long way since then.

Now, in the age of keto and paleo diets, sugar is eschewed—and in some cases demonized—making a love of sweets practically a moral issue. Books like The Case Against Sugar, The Sugar Detox, and Beating the Sugar Addiction for Dummies, have replaced books about low-fat eating on store shelves.

Sweet tooth or not, consumers must deal with the effects of ingesting too much sugar. “Americans are eating and drinking too much added sugars which can lead to health problems such as weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” said an informational article via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site. Though the CDC recommends that 10 percent or less of a person’s daily calories come from sugar per day, the average American eats much more than that. Statistics via The Diabetes Council estimate that Americans ingest approximately 126 grams of sugar daily, which equals nearly 30 teaspoons.

What then, is the alternative? Must individuals give up sweets forever? Or is there a way to have one’s cake and enjoy it too? Thankfully, sugar alternatives provide a sweet respite and are becoming more widely available than ever before.

We’ll look at what some of these are, what’s trending in the realm of alternative sweeteners, and some innovative and exciting new ingredients in the industry. We’ll also look at the outlook for these alternatives in the marketplace and what ingredient suppliers believe to be the future of more natural sweeteners.

What’s Trending in Sugar Alternatives Now?

Ed Rogers, CEO of Bonumose, Inc., in Virginia, refers to one interesting trend as “upcycling.” This process isn’t new. In fact, it’s popular throughout the food and beverage industry, Rogers noted. Upcycling refers to a circular economy, where the leftover products from creating one food or beverage is used to create another. “Bonumose’s process involves upcycling starch by-products from other food processes, such as plant-based protein production.” This process not only reduces waste but is also a good financial move for companies in the long-term. An article by Food Navigator provides a timeless example: Marmite. For those not familiar with it, Marmite is a salty spread frequently eaten on toast or crackers. It’s popular in the U.K., where it originated. It’s also a byproduct of the beer industry and an example of food upcycling that began quite a long time ago. Marmite was first created—accidentally—in 1902.

And upcycling ingredients is just the beginning of the interesting trends in alternative sweeteners. Laima Liepinyte, nutrition development manager, health and performance Nutrition at Arla Foods Ingredients, in Denmark, has noticed two others in this market. “On the one hand, more and more health-conscious consumers are looking for products that are sugar-free or low in sugar, and manufacturers are responding,” said Liepinyte. To fulfill this need, Arla Foods Ingredients created a product called WaterShake, which utilizes a whey protein isolate called Lacprodan ISO. This can be used in items like protein shakes and high-protein teas, Liepinyte noted. “Along with its high protein content, one of its key selling points is that it’s zero sugar. On the other hand, of course, taste is still king.” While focusing on the sports and nutrition sectors, Liepinyte believes manufacturers need to continue to pay careful attention to the flavor and palatability of products, due to the increasingly mainstream consumer base, calling it, “more important than ever.”

Thom King, CEO and chief food scientist at Icon Foods Inc., in Oregon, believes that one important trend that will continue to grow is two-fold. “Clean labeling and sugar reduction continue to be a massive trend,” said King, “particularly since the main underlying condition of mortality with COVID-19 is metabolic disease.” He stated, “Consumers are demanding less sugar and clean labels.”

Another interesting trend? The use of ketose, a functional food ingredient, and its effect on the immunity of the body’s largest organ, the skin. “Kestose is an advanced type of fructo-oligosaccharide, a functional ingredient that is effective in improving skin immunity,” said Jihye Shin, senior manager of the food ingredient marketing team at Samyang Corporation in Korea. “Samyang Corporation succeeded in commercialization with its own enzyme technology and is expected to be launched later this year,” Shin explained. “It has been proven through animal tests that it is effective in improving skin immunity, and it is currently in human testing and will be sold as an effective functional material to many atopic patients in Asia.”

What Key Ingredients Play a Role in Today’s Alternative Sweeteners?

Allulose is an ingredient that Icon Foods Inc., is most excited about at present. “Allulose is the first natural sweetener to perform just like sugar without impacting blood glucose and insulin levels or calorie intake,” said King. He called it one of the most revolutionary sweeteners to hit the market in decades. “It can make clean cuts to 90 percent of added sugars. The chemical makeup is almost exactly the same as sucrose, but its slight difference in hydrogen and oxygen structures means it has just one-tenth of the calories of sugar with less than 2 calories per gram and it functions just like sugar.”

Samyang Corporation also offers an allulose-based product called Nexweet Allulose, which Shin stated has many benefits. “With a low/no/reduced-sugar content and low/no/reduced-calorie trend, allulose has been spotlighted as the most suitable sugar reduction substitute,” said Shin. Allulose is a nearly zero-calorie ingredient with 0.4 kcal in the U.S., and 0 kcal in Korea and Japan. “Owing to its similar characteristics to sucrose and its harmonizing nature with other caloric and non-caloric sweeteners, it can be applied to a wide range of food and beverage products,” Shin noted. Nexweet Allulose launched in South Korea in 2017 and has been applied to a variety of food products including yogurt, ice cream, jelly, carbonated and plant-based drinks, sauces and dressings, and more. Versatility is one of the greatest benefits of this non-GMO (genetically modified organism) enzyme developed by Samyang Corporation, explained Shin.

One sweet that nearly everyone loves is chocolate. And for Valio, based in Finland, creating a perfect pairing in sweet and creamy desserts is a focus. Consumers aren’t willing to compromise on taste or texture, said Tuula Hietanen, marketing manager. They’re also seeking a clean label which means that artificial sweeteners are out. “With Valio’s solution, replacing sugar with a milk-based protein Valio Eila PRO skimmed milk powder, manufacturers can reduce sugar without E numbers,” said Hietanen. “It’s possible to make ’30 percent less sugar’ chocolate without artificial sweeteners, colors or preservatives. One gets rich, creamy and nutritious milk chocolate, with no sacrifices in taste or texture.”

Nate Yates, global platform leader of sugar reduction at Ingredion Incorporated, in Illinois, stated, “Ingredion has optimized powerful synergies between sugar alternative ingredients like stevia, allulose and erythritol, which can work well together to build optimized ingredient solutions across a wide array of food and beverage applications. Next-generation stevia is providing much more than sweetness,” he noted. “Stevia FMPs are expanding the ingredients used in savory applications, sodium reduction and enhancing various flavor notes.”

Tagatose production is where Rogers believes the future of alternative sweeteners lies. He called Bonumose’s high-yield, cost-effective tagatose product one of the most exciting ingredient innovations in the marketplace today. “It’s a healthy, great-tasting, functional, naturally occurring sucrose alternative with future potential to be cost-competitive with high fructose corn syrup.”

Though sugar will never fully be replaced, Rogers believes, “There is a lot of growth potential for tagatose and other sugar alternatives.” And while Rogers stated Bonumose isn’t the only company producing tagatose, allulose or other sugar alternatives, he’s proud of the fact that the company is creating them at cost levels that are affordable and offers patent protection around the world.

Studies Support the Need for, and Effectiveness of, Sugar Alternatives

With the increasing demand for sugar alternatives, new studies are showing many positive benefits of substituting sugar with sweet. This is good news for consumers who, according to Liepinyte, have demonstrated their attitudes toward sugar consumption are changing. The International Food Information Council Foundation, Food & Health Survey of 2019, noted that sugars are increasingly seen as undesirable, with eight in 10 consumers trying to limit or avoid them, Liepinyte explained.

This is good news for manufacturers of alternative sweeteners. The effectiveness of allulose, for example, continues to be studied. In an article in Food Science & Technology, researchers called allulose, “an ideal substitute of sucrose, with high sweetness and low calorie,” Rogers noted. Shin also pointed to studies that support the effectiveness of allulose. One in which allulose was shown to support healthy blood sugar levels, making it a good option for individuals with type 2 diabetes, and appeared in Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry. A second study related to allulose being a good sugar alternative for individuals with obesity was published in the Journal of Functional Foods.

Researchers at Valio created a “30 percent less sugar” chocolate by replacing sugar with milk-based protein, said Hietanen. While Polyols are frequently used in place of sugar, these often cause digestive upset, she noted, and their use requires a warning label about potential laxative effects. “When the sugar reduction is achieved with Valio’s solution, that is lactose-free milk powder, no such warning is necessary. It is possible to use the claim ‘reduced sugar’ as well as claim ‘protein source’ on these chocolates.” Valio’s research findings were published in a peer-reviewed article in the International Dairy Journal in 2020, noted Hietanen.

What Tips or Ideas Can Manufacturers Use When Selecting Ingredients or Formulating New Products?

“Manufacturers must consider each formulation as a whole, accounting for consumer-preferred attributes like clean labels and nutritional value as well as sweetness level, flavor and functionality,” said Sarah Diedrich, a marketing director at ADM with headquarters in Illinois. “At ADM, we utilize our Sweet Savvy expertise for an optimized, holistic method to sweetening that provides our customers with the best functional solutions. By taking this approach, we focus on not only reducing sugars but also replacing desired sweetness, rebalancing flavor and rebuilding functionality.”

She went on to explain, “While every sweetener is unique, formulators can pick the right solution by identifying how the finished product should function. As people want more from their foods and beverages, product developers should look at sugar reduction formulation with a wider lens.” Using an entire sugar reduction toolbox, Diedrich stated, is the way that ADM identifies the right balance of sweeteners, flavors and enabling ingredients among other key factors to help manufacturers create high-demand products.

“When replacing sugar, sweetness/taste is but one of many features to consider,” noted Rogers. Because sugar provides structure to foods, reduces water activity and depresses freezing points among other benefits such as low cost, it can be challenging to replace. “There is a lot to love about sugar, except that loving it too much has potential adverse health implications,” said Rogers. “Tagatose very closely replicates the taste and functionality of regular sugar, while providing positive health benefits. All of this, “at a fraction of the cost of other sugar alternatives.”

Yates encourages manufacturers to work with ingredient providers who can offer solutions tailored to their products’ needs. “We believe in being a partner to our food and beverage customers, and we take the success of their products personally,” said Yates. “We help customers forge a new way forward with technical insights to help drive taste performance.”

Logistically speaking, King explained that manufacturers need to remain aware of shortages in raw ingredients and gaps in the food chain due to the pandemic and other issues. “With global corn shortages and [logicistics] jams, make sure you are working with a reliable supply chain partner that forecasts ahead for you,” said King. He believes this is one way that manufacturers can stay ahead and be well prepared for continued growth. Along those lines, Icon Foods, Inc., has experienced a 40 percent increase in 2020 and predicts another 40 percent increase in sales in Q2 this year, King said.

Will Sugar Alternatives Continue to Grow in Marketplace? Ingredient Suppliers Weigh In

“Demand for alternatives to sugar will definitely continue to grow, mainly because of changing consumer attitudes,” said Liepinyte. “The other big factor is regulation,” she noted. “Across the world, governments are implementing taxes or new labeling rules to reduce sugar consumption.”

Diedrich concurred. “Sugar reduction and alternative sweeteners are right in line with many current global consumer trends, and this category will continue to expand,” she said. “Sweeteners play an important role in these desires as consumers are gravitating towards functional products that, on top of achieving health goals, also taste great without all the added sugar.” She noted that consumers are more mindful than ever before about their food and beverage purchases and how these may influence their physical, mental, and emotional goals. “Our research finds that 46 percent of global consumers say they are willing to pay more for products that have superior function or performance benefits,” said Diedrich, referring to a NielsenIQ Quality Study.

Hietanen believes that not only will sugar alternatives continue to experience significant growth in the market, this subcategory will also outpace other common ingredients of concern. “Sugar is increasingly overtaking fat and salt as a primary consumer concern when buying food,” she said. “As the world becomes more complex, people are re-evaluating where they put their trust.” Consumers, said Hietanen, want to buy products with a good track record. “People are looking for products and producers that are genuine, honest and transparent in all actions. And things like food safety, traceability, and purity of raw materials are more important than ever.”

With an increased demand for natural sugar alternatives, the market is wide open to companies that are inventive and ready to grow. “There are numerous innovations in sugar reduction and sugar alternatives right now,” said Yates. “Which is why innovations in systems stand out.” Smart manufacturers and retailers who support the end goals of their customers are well on their way to new or continued growth in this exciting marketplace segment. NIE

For More Information:

• ADM, www.adm.com
• Arla Foods, www.arlafoodsingredients.com
• Bonumose Inc, www.bonumose.com
• Icon Foods, Inc, www.iconfoods.com
• Ingredion, www.ingredion.com
• Samyang, www.samyang.com
• Valio, www.valio.com/b2b

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