Sugar Reduction In Dairy Beverages—What You Need To Know

Monday, October 21st, 2019

APFI interviews Donna Berry, Food Scientist & Consultant, for her insights on sweetened dairy beverages against the ‘war on sugar’ climate in Asia.

Over the past decade, dairy and yoghurt-based products have been under the spotlight for their high sugar content. Amplified by the Singapore government’s war on sugar, TV and radio advertisements have targeted frequently-consumed snacks like yoghurt-based products, advising consumers to avoid overly sweetened and fruit-heavy options.

A study by Moore, Horti and Fielding in BMJ Open, a peer-reviewed medical journal from the UK, claims that dairy contributes to an excess intake of sugars in children and adults. What’s considered a ‘healthy’ snack by most parents is actually laden with extra sugar, which the BMJ Open links to obesity and dental problems later in life. The study, which considered readily available yoghurt brands in UK supermarkets in 2016 found that only 2 percent of yoghurt options contains a healthy amount of sugars for children.

However, it is not fair to claim that dairy and yoghurt’s health claims are a façade—these products are naturally high in calcium, protein, and probiotics, which are necessary for bone, muscle and gut health respectively. It is important to retain these nutritional benefits while cutting the sugar component.

This leads to a challenge—in recent years, manufacturers have taken on the difficult task of reformulating their yoghurt products to address certain health targets. Sugar plays an important role in dairy products, not only in relation to flavour, but it also affects texture, colour, and viscosity. Replacing this critical component can have negative effects, making sugar substitution inherently difficult. The challenge here is to retain its signature sweet taste while replacing processed sugar with natural or sweetening alternatives.

To gain some insight on this subject, in this article, we speak to Donna Berry, Food Scientist & Consultant, for her take on sugar reformulation for dairy beverages.


Examining Key Trends In The Dairy Industry

The biggest trend for dairy beverages is formulation adjustments to make ‘no added sugar’ claims, as well as label statements with low ‘total sugar’ numbers. Often times, the two go hand-in-hand. Marketers are trying to educate consumers that milk inherently contains sugar in the form of lactose. These are not added sugars. Further, many dairy beverages include fruit puree or fruit juices. These also are inherent sources of sugar and typically are not considered added sugar, unless they are in concentrated forms.

For dairy beverage manufacturers, sugar reduction is one way to engage health-concerned consumers.

Formulators have a number of ingredient technology tools to work with that keep labels clean while lowering added sugars. This includes lactase enzyme, which breaks down lactose—milk’s inherent sugar–into its constituent monosaccharides, glucose and galactose, which are sweeter than lactose. There are also natural high-intensity sweeteners, including stevia and monkfruit, as well as select fibre food ingredients, namely chicory root inulin, that can assist.

Chicory root fibre inulin can directly replace sugar, corn syrup or other sweetener, with reduction benefits experienced at use levels of 2 percent to 5 percent. When high-intensity sweeteners are part of the formulation, inulin fibre helps mask off flavours, even those associated with stevia.

Stevia-based sweeteners have gone through many production and extraction enhancements, resulting in better-tasting and more economical varieties. There are many different steviol glycosides naturally present in the stevia leaf, each with its own taste profile. Rebaudioside A (Reb A)—the most abundant—is by far the most used in foods and beverages. Unfortunately, Reb A can leave a bitter aftertaste. Reb M and Reb D both have a more sugar-like flavour profile, with faster sweetness onset and no lingering taste like that of classic stevia. The challenge is that these glycosides are only present in the stevia leaf in small quantities, so they are much more expensive to extract in volume than Reb A.

Some suppliers are dedicating to resources to make the extraction more affordable and available. Other suppliers are Reb M and D through fermentation of specially crafted bakers’ yeast. The move provides manufacturers a more scalable, sustainable and low cost-in-use solution than if these same molecules were extracted from the stevia leaf.

Another technique is to rely on the sugar that is present naturally from other ingredients. For example, an exciting new product on the market in the United States is “Juicy Juice + Protein”, a juice product made with whey protein isolate which contains 5 grams of protein in a 175 ml pouch, available in flavours such as orange and fruit punch. No sugar is added to this Juicy Juice—it only contains sugar from the fruit juice and protein from whey.

The challenge for most manufacturers in dairy beverage reformulation is taste. While consumers around the world are definitely seeking out healthier foods, taste is still king. Some challenges we have seen when companies reformulate protein-based products is lack of recognition that not all proteins are the same when it comes to nutritional quality, functionality and flavour. This is where whey and milk proteins shine. They are a complete protein source with a neutral flavour profile that doesn’t overpower the food or beverage to which it is added. They also provide multifaceted functional performance advantages.

To keep up with the evolving consumer market, manufacturers need to look at the trends surrounding consumers, their lifestyles and preferences. Trending diets would be one, as well as the fact that people lead increasingly busy lifestyles and do not necessarily have the time to go to the grocery store.

From a packaging standpoint, businesses need to make the product attractive and make the dairy protein and its benefits obvious from the packaging, so that consumers get the message immediately. Dairy businesses also always need to consider the price point. Customers want products that tick 3 boxes: affordability, accessibility, and sustainability. Dairy businesses should emphasise that dairy protein is important in helping people to get the most out of what they are consuming and all within their price point.


Innovation Is Key

Berry: “This is my first time to Singapore, and I enjoyed the opportunity to visit several supermarkets to see the array of dairy products in the market. What I noticed is that while there are several dairy and yogurt-based beverages, there were limited options for dairy protein beverages compared to the United States.  Innovating more dairy protein beverages could have the dual advantage of providing a healthful, quality protein boost while keeping sugars low. Such products also do not have to only be for serious athletes or the fitness minded but can be for mainstream consumers as well, from youth to adults to seniors.”


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