SupplySide West 2015

Sugar alternatives evolve but some consumers still want the real thing

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sugar

In recent years, sugar has replaced fat and sodium as public enemy No. 1 in the nation’s fight against obesity and diabetes – prompting consumers to shun the ingredient and manufacturers to seek alternative sweeteners.

“Consumers realize that regular sugar has its baggage of potential problems,”​ including a source of high calories that can lead to obesity, which is associated with diabetes and heart diseases, said Catalin Moraru, group leader at International Food Network.

With this in mind, he said, many consumers are trying to stay away from sugar, “and this is where the other solutions may come in.”

A front-runner in the race to replace sugar is stevia, which is constantly being improved, as well as extracts from various sources, such as coconut and sweet potato, which are gaining momentum, Moraru said.

Suppliers also are exploring how fermentation can help generate new, higher quality sweeteners, while flavor houses are looking for ways to mask the off-notes of alternative sweeteners as well as redirect consumer palates away from sweet as much as possible, Moraru said.

Manufacturers also are turning to blends of long-existing sweetener alternatives that consumers have previously frowned upon for various reasons but which are safe options, added Juan Pellecer, group leader, International Food Network.

Chemical-sounding names hinder alternative sweeteners

A significant challenge hindering consumer adoption of some alternative sweeteners are their chemical sounding names, which run counter to the current trend of natural and clean ingredients.

In that regard, there are not many sweeteners that sound more natural or clean than sugar. As a result, some consumers remain loyal to sugar – they just want less of it – making space for sugar reduction efforts as well as mid-calorie sweeteners, Pellecer said.

In addition, sugar offers advantages that not all alternatives can fulfill, such as an iconic taste and its bulking properties, the two men agreed.

“There will always be a category of consumers who say, ‘Don’t mess with the taste of my product. Don’t mess with the formula. I really want it the way I know it.’ And with this in mind, I think there will always be space for sugar,”​ Moraru said.

But, he cautioned, consumer demand for real sugar may not remain at its current levels. Rather, he said, “with the advances of the various alternatives, sugar might become more of a treat.”

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