A sweet challenge: 64 percent of industry finds sugar reduction in confectionery to be toughest

636554935533936960almondbrownie.jpg

01 Mar 2018 --- Sugar reduction is at the top of most NPD agendas and in just over a month (April 6, 2018), the much-debated sugar tax will come into effect in the UK. The market penetration of new food & beverages with sugar reduction claims continues to grow. Interestingly, a recent poll conducted in a live webinar hosted by FoodIngredientsFirst and presented by Kerry yesterday finds that 64 percent of the industry believes that reducing sugar in Sweet Confectionery & Bakery will be most challenging, despite ingredient innovation thriving in this area. This application area was followed by Beverages on 20%.

The poll asked, “Which area do you see as the biggest challenge for Sugar Reduction?”

The results were as follows: 
- Sweet Confectionery & Bakery: 64%
- Beverages (Hot, Alcoholic, Non-Alcoholic, Dairy & Nutritional): 20%
- Dairy (Yoghurts, Cheese, Ice-Cream & Desserts): 12% 
- Savory Snacks: 2%
- Prepared Meals and Appetizers: 1%
- Meat: 1%

Solutions are being offered by industry, nonetheless. An Innova Market Insights analysis of new product launches with the claims of “low sugar,” “sugar free” and “sugar-reduced” claims found that these products accounted for just under 5 percent of all global launches reported in 2013, but by 2017, this had risen to 6.2 percent, which is a CAGR of +24.6 percent over this period. 

Among the top product categories featuring sugar reduction claims, dairy shows the largest average annual growth of +27.2 percent between 2013-2017, but it is still soft drinks that lead regarding making these claims, ahead of baby & toddler foods, confectionery, dairy and bakery. In fact, in 2017, one in every five F&B launches that featured a sugar reduction claim was a soft drink. But this is based on products actively communicating a reduced content, rather than those using a stealth strategy whereby formulation takes place.

In response to these new regulations in sugar reduction, Kerry is investing in addressing consumer and health demands. During a webinar yesterday, Aisling Aherne, Nutrition Science Manager at Kerry, spoke about “Sugar Reduction Around the World – Consumer, Health & Legislation Demands.” 

Click to Enlarge
65% of respondents could not tell which product was more
healthful from the nutritional content (on the label) alone.

In a second poll devised for the webinar, respondents were asked to tell which product was more healthful from the nutritional content (on the label) alone. They were shown a picture of a carbonated soft drink with 10g sugar or 42 kcal or a 100g apple with 10g sugar and 49 kcal was better for you. 65 percent of this learned audience could not tell which was more healthful based around the label alone, with 35% saying they could. Aherne was keen to point out that communication needs to be managed better, particularly when it comes to sugar and calorie content, as this can clearly mislead consumers. 

“It can be difficult just looking at the calories and sugar content of products; you have to look at the ingredient deck as a whole, not just the sugar and calories. If you look at a sugar reduced product, you automatically think that calories are rescued from the product however this is not always the case,” she notes. “Other ingredients may be used to replace sugar and they can help contribute to increased calories of the product, so it does not equate to calorie reduction, however some consumers do think they do,” Aherne adds. “It is worth looking at the overall calories even if the sugar is reduced.” 

Ashley Baker, who is VP RD&A Sweet and Cereal at Kerry was also speaking during the webinar: “Consumers do have a perception that reduced sugar products are healthier, but they also do have a perception that by doing so, taste can sometimes be compromised. “

“When it comes to reformulation, not only do you have to replace the impact regarding sweetness, but you have to deal with the fact that you have taken the weight out of the product,” he notes. “You could probably replace the taste of sugar with a combination of sweeteners, but when replacing the bulk, you could look at fibers and hydrocolloids to put back in what you have essentially taken out.” 

“It has to be precise regarding technicalities, which can be quite complex, in applications such as confectionery & bakery products. In the finished product, the volumes will be affected and often the approach would have to be combining multiple technologies to replace all the different functionalities in those products.”

“When taking something out you have to put something back in,” he adds. 
 
Depending on the finished product, the extent of sugar reduction may vary too. “If you have a product that is low in sugar and the sugar has a limited number of functionalities, then it may be possible to replace that sugar with an alternative sweetener to generate a similar flavors profile, but you may not get the same mouthfeel,” he continues. 

“In some confectionery, for example, the amount of sugar in products such as toffee or fudge is higher, which is critical to the physical structure of the product, reducing sugar here really have am impact of the application, replacing it may not give the same taste and texture and certainly it can be very technically challenging.”

In beverages, sugar contributes to sweetness and is critical to the mouthfeel. According to Baker, you could look at substituting with pectin or fibers, but depending on the amount of sugar that is being reduced, flavor modulation or masking could also be a suitable option. 

Aherne believes that the future of low and reduced sugar is something the industry has to get used to. “I do see an increase in demand from consumers, however in time I think this may change, the focus won’t be on added sugar alone and the government will start to focus on total calories when it comes to reformulation.” 

“The shift from no added sugar will move to healthier options that provide better calorie content and improved sugar and fat content as well,” she says. 

Replacing added sugars with non-caloric sweeteners may reduce calorie intake in the short-term, yet questions remain about their efficacy as a weight management strategy. Obesity is a complex multi-factorial issue that cannot be attributed to just one nutrient, as an industry we must take more than just sugar reduction into consideration. 

From April 6, 2018, a sugar tax will come into effect in the UK, with essentially 2 bands of products. These are:
•    A lower rate of 18 pence per liter for drinks with a total sugar content between 5-8g per 100ml.
•    A higher rate of 24 pence per liter for drinks with total sugar more than 8g per 100ml.
Drinks with a sugar content lower than 5g per 100ml will not be subject to the levy.

The UK is not alone in taking this taxing route and Ireland will also introduce a similar scheme this April. Since 2010, various strategies have been employed around the world, with some success reported in Mexico, but other countries such as Denmark and Finland stopping it.

Confectionery will be the next likely playing field for a sugar tax, as the second biggest contributing factor to sugar intake. Lobbying calls are already intensifying in the UK for a similar tax in the confectionery space. 

The UK industry is very focused on sugar reduction right now, but will that evolve into more of a focus on calorie reduction instead, in order to avoid misunderstandings. Aherne concludes that this is happening already and that this will certainly be an area worth watching out for in the months ahead: “Public Health England (PHE) are publishing their 1 year sugar reduction report in early April, they will also be highlighting calorie caps in this report, where they are looking at total calories for different eating stages throughout the day. Following on from this we have the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition who are looking at fats and human health in early 2019. From this PHE will look to potentially set fat tax or recommendations on calorie reduction too. So calorie content is being focused on in the UK and this may have a domino effect across the globe.” 

You can watch the webinar here.

By Elizabeth Green & Robin Wyers

To contact our editorial team please email us at editorial@cnsmedia.com