Sugar Reduction For A Sweeter Tomorrow

Monday, April 9th, 2018

Driven by urbanisation, nutrition transition, and increasingly sedentary lifestyles, the world is witnessing an alarming growth in obesity and its commonly accompanying health complication says Dina Yeon, marketing manager, Sweetness, Ingredion Asia Pacific.


In 2016, the World Health Organisation estimated that over 1.9 billion adults, representing a staggering 39 percent, are overweight, while the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) revealed that more than 425 million people around the globe are afflicted with Diabetes. IDF also indicated that the Diabetes pandemic is especially prevalent in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, where 60 percent of Diabetics live, and the total number of Diabetics in APAC has been projected to increase more than 50 percent by the year 2040.


Faced with the unprecedented increase in the occurrence of Diabetes, the governments in the APAC region have started highlighting this issue as national emergencies. In the past few years, governments of countries like India, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand have been putting together strategies to bring the situation under control. In the past year, the APAC region saw a rise in sugar taxes as well as other legislations, such as product labelling requirements, to encourage consumers to adopt a lower-sugar diet.


For instance, the Thailand government will phase in a sugar tax over six years to encourage drinks manufacturers to reduce the sugar content in their products and to take advantage of the lower tax rate for sugar-free beverages. Most recently, the region also witnessed the Philippines government implementing taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, which is expected to drive an approximate 14 percent increase in price for sweetened beverages in the country. Awareness programs are also being implemented in the region to sharpen the focus on educating the public about the importance of healthy eating and an active lifestyle.


While these government initiatives have gathered momentum only in the past few years, the trend of APAC consumers being more conscious of their food choices has been gaining strength for much longer. The awareness about health issues related to high sugar intake and obesity has increased amongst consumers. Consumer awareness in Japan, Korea and Australasia is the highest in the region, and these consumers are driving the reduced-sugar market.


For example, Nielsen had conducted a study in 2016 to determine if Asian consumers are becoming more conscious of their health and food choices. The study revealed that nearly one in two Asian consumers think they are overweight and more than half are actively trying to lose weight. The study also found that consumers who are focused on weight loss believe that adjusting various aspects of their diet, such as cutting down sugar, plays a key role in their weight control strategy. Corroborating the region’s spotlight on weight loss, a separate survey conducted by Nielsen revealed that 30 percent of APAC consumers consider low-sugar and sugar-free claims as key factors affecting their purchasing decisions and 60 percent of APAC consumers who are planning to lose weight will cut down on their sugar intake. With the influence of the various health awareness programs kicking in, it is likely that these numbers will increase further.


Today, the trend of consumers favouring low-sugar and sugar-free products has broadened beyond ‘diet’ and ‘light’ beverages and extended to products like yoghurts and desserts, tooth-friendly gums and sweets, diabetic-friendly baked goods, and even reduced sugar soups, sauces and ketchup. Globally, the number of products with low-sugar claims has been growing, and specifically, APAC region witnessed a 13 percent increase in new products launches containing low-sugar claims between 2012 and 2017. In line with the increased attention towards a healthy lifestyle, food and beverage manufacturers are feeling the pressure to either eliminate or reduce the level of sugar in their products to appeal to the increasing number of health-conscious consumers. In order to compensate for the loss of sweetness due to sugar reduction, manufacturers often turn to high intensity sweeteners (HIS) in their reformulations. Presently, to reduce or eliminate sugar in their formations, manufacturers often turn to HIS such as stevia, acesulfame-K, aspartame, cyclamate, saccharin and sucralose. HIS reduces calories when added to foods and beverages, and has a higher relative sweetness compared to sugar. This means they can be used in smaller quantities and still achieve the same sweetness intensity of sucrose.


Challenges Of Replacing Sugar


Apart from sweetness, sugar has other unique qualities that make it appealing to consumers. Its physical and chemical properties affect the texture and overall experience, thus making it more enjoyable. Manufacturers need to choose the right alternative sugar solutions for overall taste and texture balance to develop final products that provide drinking and eating experiences alike to those made with sugar.


Manufacturers expose themselves to a risk of reduced demand for new products if the consumers do not like products of reduced sugar. To overcome these challenges, manufacturers can choose from a wide array of reduced sugar alternatives. Driven by the technological advancements in the food & beverage industries, leading ingredient solutions providers offer a whole range of reduced sugar sweeteners that help balance taste and texture as required by different manufacturers. By conducting thorough research on consumer requirements, sensory evaluation and a detailed study of the entire sugar replacement process, manufacturers can choose the right solution with very limited or no compromise on taste and texture. These sugar substitutes are derived from the research undertaken by solution providers who are able to customise solutions upon specific needs, such as the amount of sugar reduction, calorie reduction, nutritional fortification, and so on.


Ingredion has its finger on the pulse of the developing trends, and constantly innovates to develop solutions to help manufacturers meet consumers’ evolving demands. Leveraging on its Idea Labs innovations centres, Ingredion has developed a wide range of alternative sugar solutions such as its SWEETIS sweetener system which offers food and beverage manufacturers the ability to create sucrose-like taste profiles with the mouthfeel of sugar. By choosing the right reduced sugar alternatives and applying the latest technologies and know-how to reformulation processes, manufacturers can develop lower sugar formulas with shortened development cycles as well as enjoy the balance of taste and texture to provide a wider range of offerings, thus meeting the needs of different consumers to capture market share.