It’s a decades-old problem that’s not going anywhere—at least not while there are diet books and programs to sell. Consumers want to live a healthier lifestyle, so they want low-sugar foods that also taste great. Further complicating matters, government regulations around sugar and sugar substitutes can create challenges for product developers.
What do consumers want?
Consumers want reduced-sugar products due to health concerns and a desire for a healthier lifestyle, with eight in 10 saying they are intentionally avoidinga or reducing sugar in their diets. This trend is likely influenced by their health care providers, along with the massive amounts of “anti-sugar” information displayed across media and social networks. The reasoning is simple: Excess sugary foods and beverages can lead to weight gain, blood sugar problems and an increased risk of heart disease, among other dangerous conditions, so health care providers often encourage patients to limit their sugar intake.
Then there are the latest diet trends that focus on sugar reduction, like Keto, Mediterranean and overall “clean eating.” Regardless of diet fads, sugar intake is often a pivotal component of any healthy lifestyle. In fact, “low in sugar” ranked secondb, following “fresh” when consumers were asked to define healthy food. Additionally, 55% of consumers stated they “always/often” pay attention to labelsc when grocery shopping, with sugar content being a primary driver.
So far, so good. Now comes the hard part. Consumers want to ditch sugar, but they love what sugar does for their favorite foods and beverages. When they decide to indulge in something like ice cream, they recognize that a considerable amount of sugar will be consumed—but they are unwilling to give up the deliciousness they want. In some cases, they may eat a smaller amount to reduce their sugar intake but still have the enjoyment of the full-sugar treat. More likely, they want a lower- or no-sugar alternative. Reduced sugar also may be more of a priority with something like a beverage or salad dressing that is consumed regularly.
What is the government’s role?
Government agencies and health organizations have been pushing for sugar reduction to address rising health concerns related to excessive sugar consumption. Governments and regulatory bodies have taken various approaches, such as:
· Implementing sugar taxes on sugary beverages and snacks.
· Introducing food labeling regulations to inform consumers about sugar content.
· Promoting public awareness campaigns to educate people about the health risks associated with high sugar intake.
This push for sugar reduction is driven by concerns over increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related issues worldwide, and the resulting strain on public health resources. The aims are improving the general state of public health and reducing the burden of chronic diseases associated with excessive sugar consumption by encouraging people to consume less sugar and opt for healthier choices. However, the extent and specific strategies, as well as the success, in reducing sugar intake vary from country to country depending on individual policies and public health priorities.
Because sugar plays essential roles beyond sweetness, including flavor enhancement, texture and mouthfeel, working closely with an experienced flavor partner helps speed up the development cycle.
Many sugar-reduction initiatives are voluntary, but health organizations continue to push for formal initiatives to reduce sugar. Consumers will also continue to demand solutions that meet their criteria. At Sensient, we see the current landscape as a critical window to adopt alternatives to sugar to stay ahead of changing desires and regulations—the driving forces for change in this area. We also are eager to see how sugar alternatives will improve to further address sugar’s functional aspects, including its role in baked goods.
Where do manufacturers fit into the puzzle?
Food and beverage producers have been responding to the sugar-reduction movement for some time. The global reduced-sugar food and beverages marketd is expected to post a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.9% from 2022 to 2030.
Some manufacturers have introduced full new lines of low-sugar or no-sugar products, while others have focused on reformulating their existing products. Both approaches come with challenges, but often starting fresh can eliminate some of the difficulties with matching taste and mouthfeel that come with reformulating existing products.
Because sugar plays essential roles beyond sweetness, including flavor enhancement, texture and mouthfeel, working closely with an experienced flavor partner helps speed up the development cycle. Our team of flavorists and application scientists are well-versed in taste modulation and formulating reduced sugar products; they know what pitfalls to avoid and can bring new ideas and technology to the table.
Tailored solutions can enhance the overall product experience in terms of sweetness and mouthfeel while reducing sugar content.
It’s a safe bet that innovation around sugar reduction will continue, because consumers will continue to educate themselves and strive for a healthier lifestyle—and because governments and health organizations will continue pushing reduced sugar initiatives. That’s because, when all is said and done, taste is the driving factor in food and beverage choices!
aSensient Proprietary Research
bIFIC 2023 Food & Health Report, Perspectives on Health and Nutrition
cIFIC 2023 Food & Health Report, Purchase Drivers and Shopping Patterns