Sugar coating sugar reduction: Finding the balance in the dairy space


23 Oct 2017 --- One of the most striking international phenomena in recent years is how consumer attitudes have changed towards sugar. In the food and drink industry, reducing sugar content, using alternative sweeteners and being more health conscious are top priorities in today’s consumer trends. Late last year, Innova Market Insights tipped “Sweeter Balance” as the top three trends for 2017 and even later in the year, sugar reduction is still on the tip of the tongue.

The pressures around sugar have been prevalent for some time, although it remains the key ingredient delivering the sweetness and great taste that consumers are looking for. But is that the case in the dairy segment? FoodIngredientsFirst takes a closer look at the trend in dairy and if added sugars and indulgent experiences in dairy are still factors for the consumer when beverages, yogurt and other dairy products come into play?

Firstly, we spoke to Melissa Muldowney, Strategic Marketing Director for Dairy at Kerry, Beloit, Wisconsin, who says that consumers in the US, specifically, still expect their dairy products to taste great and when sugar is reduced or removed, taste and texture are impacted. “Today’s consumer is demanding less sugar and more protein which puts dairy foods and beverages in a position to win if products are reformulated properly,” she notes. 

Consumers are increasingly aware of the linkage of sugar to obesity and the entire food and beverage industry must respond Click to Enlarge to remain relevant and according to Muldowney, technology is changing consumer behavior and preferences and ultimately driving the food and beverage industry to respond. “100 million Americans each day log into and record what they consume using apps such as Fitness Pal,” she adds. 

“Today’s consumers are more educated than ever before about the ingredients in their food and beverage products (including dairy). As the industry seeks alternative ways to deliver sweetness, we must continue to remind ourselves that the consumer still wants recognizable ingredients that they could find in their pantry,” she explains.  

Stephen Cobbe, R&D Director for Dairy at Kerry, Beloit, Wisconsin, also explains how sugar relates to texture in dairy: “Sugar contributes to the percent solids in dairy products, which subsequently impacts the viscosity and thus mouthfeel and texture.  Reducing sugar can reduce mouthfeel and texture.  For certain dairy applications, such as ice cream, reducing the sugar can impact how ice cream aerates and freezes.  Ice crystal size and air cell structure can be impacted and this then impacts texture,” he says.  

“Alternative sugar sources such as syrups (e.g. agave, honey), sweeteners and sugar alcohols (e.g. erythritol) can be used.  Texturants and stabilizers can also be used to build back viscosity and maintain ice crystal size consistency,” states Cobbe.  

Sibylle Umiker, Corporate Communications at Emmi also spoke with FoodIngredientsFirst: “Today, consumers are more aware of the sugar content within dairy products. But – among the broad masses - the level of knowledge about nutrition in general and about sugar, in particular, is still very low. The proportion of consumers who can differentiate between carbohydrates and sugar or between naturally contained sugar (like lactose or fructose) and added sugar is growing, but on a low level.”

“In the discussion about sugar the group of fitness enthusiasts who rely on a low-sugar, low-fat and high-protein diet is still dominant,” he notes. 

“In 2013, we launched a lactose-free and sugar reduced line of fresh products (yogurts, yogurt drinks and milk) under the brand Click to EnlargeEmmi good day. This brand won the Dairy Innovation Award in 2013, but could not prevail on the market. Right now, only lactose-free milk and cream are available,” Umiker explains. “But we are still convinced that the demand for products with less added sugar will increase. An indication is that the natural yogurt segment (no added sugar) e.g. grows in most markets over average.”

“In order to fulfill this consumer need, Emmi recently launched two news yogurts with 50 percent less added sugar and without any artificial sweeteners in its successful YoQua Range (high-protein yogurt),” he adds. 

According to Umiker, the knowledge of people regarding food nutrients as well as their health-orientation in general increases more and more. This is also supported by the fact that these topics are more and more in the focus of social media and blogs. 

So how does sugar content relate to texture in dairy? “Sugar is an important flavor carrier, it helps to intensify the fruit flavor and also preserves the taste over time,” reveals Umiker. 

What happens when you take out sugar from dairy? If added sugar is taken out, the flavor profile has to be reworked very carefully. Adding more fruits helps to balance this out. However, a slightly different taste is expected as well as accepted by the consumers.

Even with these challenges, Emmi seems positive that the trend will be relevant in the food and dairy industry, in particular, for some. 

“The trend of reduced added sugar will continue over time,” he confirms. “It is already a very relevant consumer need in markets such as the UK and will spread to other markets in Europe and to other continents within the next years for sure.”

Earlier this month, FoodIngredientsFirst, reported that Ireland is proposing to bring in a sugar tax similar to the levy to be introduced in the UK amid concerns the country is facing an escalating obesity crisis. The ongoing obesity crisis ad sugar tax hasClick to Enlarge been at the forefront of concern for some years – but has this trend for sugar reduction made a move into the dairy space? 

Clodagh de Beaurepaire, Marketing Manager, Taste, at Kerry, Ireland discusses the government’s engagement to reduce sugar in foods across the UK. “In the UK, the government is engaging with all sectors of the food industry to reduce the amount of sugar in the foods that contribute most to children’s intakes. Public Health England (PHE) has introduced a program and set targets to reduce the sugar in the top 9 food categories that contribute the most to children’s sugar intakes. In this context, it is not surprising that consumers might look for sugar-reduced dairy and they may do this independently to trying to substitute fizzy drinks.”

“I have no evidence to indicate that dairy-based beverages could substitute fizzy sugary drinks in the consumer’s mind (i.e. whether they can answer the same consumer need, the same target and consumption moment),” she states. 

“What is certain is that there are different drivers to sugar reduction: government taxes, media, influencers, consumers’ health awareness. One in two claim to check sugar content; there is definite interest on the part of consumers for reduced sugar across a wide range of food and drink products,” de Beaurepaire finalizes.

By Elizabeth Green

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