Focus: Hitting the sweet spots with sugar alternatives

Over the past decade, the so-called war on sugar has continued to intensify, with many health experts describing it as “public enemy number one”. Confectionery Production examines industry’s response, reports Daisy Phillipson

The anti-sugar debate, which has remained in the global consumer and media spotlight in recent years, is the result of numerous dietary surveys and studies suggesting increased consumption contributes to the rising prevalence of health issues such as obesity and diabetes.

Consumers have been bombarded with messages about the negative effects of sugar, explains ingredients group Kerry in its ‘Innovative Taste for a Better Life and Planet’ report, causing it to become a microcosm of the healthy eating movement.

As a result, governmental action on sugar reduction has ramped up in recent years. Amid data that shows people consume significantly more of the sweet stuff than they should, the World Health Organisation recommends for adults and children to reduce consumption of free sugars to less than 10 percent of their daily intake.

For further prevention of obesity and tooth decay, the guidelines suggest slashing this to five percent to receive additional health benefits. Alongside restrictions, the implementation of sugar taxes continues to gain traction worldwide.

Since 2015, outlines Kerry’s report, 35 governmental authorities including countries, states and cities have introduced taxes on sugary products such as soft drinks.

For example, the UK launched a three-tiered levy in 2018 whereby manufacturers of soft drinks containing more than 5g of sugar per 100ml have to pay up to £0.18 a litre to the Treasury. Clearly, the world’s attitude towards sugar has changed dramatically in recent years, a trend that has been magnified by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “Before Covid-19, consumers were already wary of sugars,” says Andy Ohmes, global director of high-intensity sweeteners at Cargill.

“The pandemic amplified that trend, placing a bigger spotlight on the importance of healthier food choices.” Ohmes went on to discuss data from HealthFocus International, which suggests more than half (52 per cent) of EMEA consumers say reducing sugars in their diet has become more important over the last year, while Innova reports that two-thirds (67 percent) claim sugar content influences their purchase decisions. “Those findings align with Cargill’s recent proprietary consumer research, which found seven in 10 consumers say they are likely to check the sugars content of the products they buy.

Sweet solutions

Although the global media and local governments continue to crack down on sugar consumption, the confectionery and bakery sectors have witnessed encouraging performances. A recent report published by Research Dive anticipates that the global confectionery market alone will generate a revenue of £163.3 billion at a CAGR of 3.7 per cent during the forecast period (2020 to 2025).

Despite the ongoing action to cut sugar intake, ultimately the general consensus is that moderation is key. Consumers still enjoy chocolate, candy and sweet snacks as an indulgent treat, and this will not change. But, as outlined by the report, a key driver for the growth is the preference for sugar-free or -reduced products among health-conscious consumers.

While this trend used to be the preserve of people with health conditions or on diets, the category has entered the mainstream as major suppliers announce new products and promises that address demand.

Chocolate brands Cadbury and The Hershey Company now offer reduced- or zero-sugar ranges, while McVitie’s announced plans to reduce sugar in nine of the UK’s favourite biscuits by up to 10 percent. Reaching this point has been no mean feat; any manufacturer will know that introducing sugar alternatives can create a number of technical challenges.

As well as adding sweetness, sugar contributes bulk to confectionery and plays a significant role in mouthfeel and shelf life. Thankfully, innovation has accelerated in parallel with demand, with ingredients suppliers developing an increasing variety of cost-effective solutions.

In its report, Kerry highlights its TasteSense Sweet range, which Sipal (organic) and Natu (conventional) ranges, the firm’s rice syrup is obtained by the hydrolysis of rice flour using natural enzymes.

The ingredient can be labelled as GMO-free and certified organic or natural, and is suitable for a wide range of recipes such as biscuits, plant-based products, ice creams, snack bars and confectionery, among others. As well as providing natural sweetness to candies, it can act as a binding agent, a thickener and a humectant. Another company with an array of clean label sweetening solutions is ingredients firm Kanegrade.

The range comprises a diverse set of options, with the company outlining how selecting the correct alternative can provide attributed benefits to a product such as natural, low or no calorie and enhanced taste claims. Available in powder and liquid form and suitable for numerous applications including bakery, snacks and confectionery, there are plenty of options available to manufacturers, from agave syrup and date juice concentrate to banana puree and honey powder.

Maintaining mouthfeel

In addition to sweetness and overall taste, sugar is important for texture, shelf life and safety – characteristics that must be replicated when adding alternatives to a recipe. “Whenever you replace sugars, it’s not enough to create a sweet confection that tastes great,” says Ravi Nana, polyols technical service representative, Cargill.

“The replacement bulking agents must also fulfil all its other functions in the formula.” As part of 300,000 hours spent studying the unique properties of the stevia leaf, the food corporation developed its ViaTech portfolio of stevia leaf extract sweeteners. The ingredients are said to be capable of achieving sugar reduction of 50 percent or more in challenging applications.

“The next development in our stevia innovation journey was EverSweet, currently approved for use in the US and Mexico,” adds Nana. “With EverSweet, formulators gained access to some of the sweetest components of the stevia leaf – Reb M and Reb D.” When it comes to fulfilling sugars’ bulking and functional roles, polyols like Cargill’s Zerose erythritol pair well with stevia in confectionery applications, says Nana: “It delivers a clean, sweet taste profile, similar to sugars, and it replaces sugars’ bulk at a oneto-one ratio.”

Erythritol can be used in products such as chewing gum, fudge, chocolate, compressed candy, fondants and gummies. It can also be used to improve chewing gum processability, texture and shelf life or provide a good gloss, snap and melting properties in chocolate coatings.

Besides mouthfeel, the visual appeal is another important factor to consider when formulating sugar-free or low sugar recipes. “With more consumers looking for intense or memorable consumption moments, confectionery products need to deliver in terms of visual appeal, as well as targeting the other senses,” says Rudy Wouters, Vice-President of the Beneo-Technology Centre.

To overcome the technical challenges that arise when creating reduced sugar products that cater to this trend.Beneo generated a series of gum and candy concepts using Isomalt, its bulk sweetener exclusively derived from sugar beet. One of three concepts is ReMix, a translucent coated chewing gum.

Wouters highlights how Isomalt is a cost and time effective solution, as it crystallises translucently, meaning all of the different chewing gum cores can be coated at the same time as opposed to the commonly used individual coating process. The second is Mellow Moments, where Isomalt was used to create extruded, chewy, sugar-free candy pellets.

“This was then coated with Isomalt GS, ensuring the resulting chewy candy delivered a pleasant crunch and excellent shelf life,” explains Wouters. Finally, the Rush concept saw Beneo use Isomalt ST to develop soft mint chewables with a sanded coating. On the topic of taste and texture, alongside sugar alternatives, oils and fats play an instrumental role in retaining consumer experience of sugar-reduced products. With this in mind, speciality oils and fats group Bunge Loders Croklaan has claimed a major industry breakthrough for the confectionery sector in developing a system offering up to 50 per cent sugar reduction in product ranges.

According to the company, its latest solution, Sweetolin, is a total fat system “Before Covid-19, consumers were already wary of sugars,” says Andy Ohmes, global director of high-intensity Sweeteners at Cargill. that processes unique combinations of ingredients to preserve the overall taste and mouthfeel that sugar provides. The integrated formula of compounds optimises the melting property of the final product, resulting in a higher sweet perception and experience without any lingering off-taste.

“Sugar reduction is top of mind as consumers are increasingly looking for healthier choices with balanced nutritional profiles,” says Holger Riemensperger, VP innovation and strategy development, Bunge Loders Croklaan. “A key priority for the industry is to formulate products that offer the same great taste and overall experience with less sugar.”



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