Market Outlook For Sugar Alternatives And What To Expect In 2018

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

In the last three decades, cases of diabetes have risen at an alarming rate. This, combined with growing consumer interest in health and wellness, has prompted a war on sugar. By Sebastiano Pagano, general manager for TASTE, Kerry Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa.


While it is a national policy debate across the region, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the Philippines have taken a more stringent approach—introducing an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. With Asia accounting for more than 60 per cent of cases of diabetes worldwide, it can only be a matter of time before other governments follow suit.

Consumers are also voting with their wallets. Indeed, a recent Kerry survey of more than 1,000 consumers across five Asian countries including India, Indonesia, China, Australia and the Philippines, found that due to health concerns, nearly a third (31 percent) of respondents are now drinking fewer soft drinks, than they were three years ago.

Interestingly, despite the push to reduce sugar intake, our study also found that consumers are uncompromising when it comes to taste, texture and choice, with more than three-quarters of respondents saying that they are unwilling to sacrifice taste and still want delicious choices to satisfy their sweet palate.

As reduced-sugar becomes a necessity rather than a ‘nice to have’, brands that can still pack a punch on achieving an acceptable and naturally sweet taste will be best-placed to grow their customer base.

The good news is that innovation in sugar alternatives has accelerated in recent years. There are a growing number of options that brands can consider to move away from full-sugar, but which are the best for preserving taste and mouthfeel, whilst satisfying the simultaneously growing consumer preference for ‘natural’ ingredients?

Artificial Sweeteners As An Alternative?

Artificial sweeteners first came to the fore after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave its stamp of approval for aspartame in 1974. This was followed by variations including saccharin, acesulphame, neotame and sucralose, but they have always compromised on taste – with many consumers complaining of metallic off-notes and slightly bitter aftertaste.

Attitudes towards artificial sweeteners have also waned in recent years as the ‘natural’ and Clean Label movements have gained ground in APAC.  As increasingly health-conscious consumers gravitate towards food and beverage products made using less artificial ingredients, synthetic sugar alternatives are starting to lose appeal with many.

In response, some food and beverage manufacturers are starting to replace artificial sweeteners with natural high-impact sweeteners (HIS) such as stevia, monk fruit and erythritol, or limiting the use of artificial sweeteners in their formulas.

But even so, whilst most HIS can help boost perceived sweetness, they cannot deliver on the functional properties of sugar in food and beverages such as mouthfeel, viscosity and colour. Foods that have complex textures such as baked goods, cereal bars and ice cream are especially challenging for manufacturers.

Taste Modulation Technology

When sugar and artificial sweeteners are replaced or reduced, there needs to be a holistic approach to rebuild mouthfeel, mask bitterness or off-notes and perfect the entire taste experience.

One successful method for reducing sugar without affecting taste is the application of taste modulation tools. These technologies can enhance the sensory perception of taste like sweetness without requiring more sugar to be added to a product. By using this technique, overall taste perception and flavour profiles are improved, producing healthier products while preserving taste.

This has been a big focus for us in recent years. Our Kerry TasteSense taste modulation technology builds back sweetness and mouthfeel that is lost when sugar is reduced, allowing consumers to enjoy the full taste that sugar delivers, without the negative labelling impact.

Derived from natural botanical, fruit and vegetable extracts, distillates, and essences, TasteSense is designed to be compliant with applications including beverages, soups, sauces, marinades, dairy, baked goods, cereals and confectionery. TasteSense sweet flavours alone can help customers achieve up to 30 per cent sugar reduction. To achieve 50 per cent and higher sugar reduction, brands can combine TasteSense sweet flavours with flavour maskers and HIS. Importantly, TasteSense is Halal certified and can be labelled as natural flavourings—a bonus as Clean Label rises up the consumer agenda.

Looking To The Future

With more legislative changes on sugar yet to come, the next few years will be a tipping point for the region. What’s certain is that the reduced sugar agenda is no fad—it’s the new norm.

Consumers will still be driven by taste, but ‘no’ or ‘low’ sugar will soon be expected as standard. In this uncompromising environment, brands will only retain market share if they can succeed at cutting the sugar and keeping the taste expectations of consumers.