Balancing Consumer Needs, Government Regulations and Formulation Challenges with Sugar Reduction

By Jennefer Lyons, Sensient Flavors & Extracts, Marketing Manager

As published in the August 2023 issue of Innovations in Food Technology

Every new diet trend, the overall desire for consumers to live a healthier lifestyle, and government regulations around sugar can create challenges for product developers when trying to reduce sugar in products.

Let’s start by taking a look at what consumers are looking for

Consumers continue to show interest in reduced sugar products due to health concerns and a desire for a healthier lifestyle, with eight in 10 saying they are intentionally avoiding or reducing sugar in their diets.1 This can be influenced by healthcare providers and everything we see across media and our social networks. Excess sugary foods and beverages can lead to weight gain, blood sugar problems and an increased risk of heart disease, among other dangerous conditions, so healthcare providers often encourage patients to limit their sugar intake.

Then you have the latest diet trends you see your family and friends discussing that focus on sugar reduction, like Keto, Mediterranean and overall “clean eating.” Regardless of the current diet fad, sugar intake is often a pivotal component of any healthy lifestyle. In fact, ‘low in sugar’ ranked second, following “fresh” when consumers were asked what best defines healthy food for them.2

It is a balance, though. When consumers follow these low-sugar lifestyles, they often look for convenient options that fit easily into their daily routines. But when they decide to indulge in something like ice cream, they recognise a more considerable amount of sugar will be consumed and are unwilling to give up on the deliciousness they are looking forward to. Instead, they may eat a smaller amount to reduce their sugar intake but still have the enjoyment of the full sugar treat. Reduced sugar may be more of a priority with something like a beverage or salad dressing they are consuming regularly. Additionally, 55% of consumers stated they “always/often” pay attention to labels3 when grocery shopping, with sugar content being a primary driver.

How do government regulations play a role in sugar reduction?

Many governments and health organisations have been pushing for sugar reduction to address the rising health concerns related to excessive sugar consumption. Governments and regulatory bodies have taken various approaches, such as implementing sugar taxes on sugary beverages and snacks, introducing food labelling regulations to inform consumers about sugar content and promoting public awareness campaigns to educate people about the health risks associated with high sugar intake.

The push for sugar reduction is driven by concerns over the increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related issues worldwide. Governments aim to improve the general state of public health and reduce the burden of chronic diseases associated with excessive sugar consumption by encouraging people to consume less sugar and opt for healthier choices. However, the extent and specific strategies for sugar reduction may vary from country to country depending on individual policies and public health priorities.

What does this mean for product developers?

Food manufacturers have been responding to the sugar reduction movement for a while now, with the global reduced sugar food & beverages market expected to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.9% from 2022 to 2030.4 Some manufacturers have introduced a new line of low-sugar or no-sugar products, while others have focused on reformulating their current products. Both come with challenges, but often starting fresh and knowing the product you are developing can eliminate some of the difficulties that come with reformulating and trying to match the same taste and mouthfeel.

With sugar playing several essential roles beyond sweetness, including flavour enhancement, texture and mouthfeel, working closely with a flavour house helps speed up your development cycle with a team of flavourists and application scientists well-versed in taste modulation and formulating reduced sugar products. By working with tools like Sensient’s TrueBoost™ Sweetness, food producers can increase the sweetness perception while improving overall mouthfeel. They also know how to mask those lingering off notes from sugar replacers with Sensient’s Smoothenol® creating a more desirable taste profile that can be labeled as a natural flavor, making it an ideal choice for health-conscious consumers. With taste modulation technologies, you can deliver a great tasting, reduced sugar product consumers will not only love but are starting to expect.

As consumers continue to educate themselves and strive for a healthier lifestyle and government and health organisations continue pushing reduced sugar initiatives, innovation around sugar reduction will continue. Because, at the end of the day, taste matters the most!

1 Sensient Proprietary Research

2 IFIC 2023 Food & Health Report, Perspectives on Health and Nutrition

3 IFIC 2023 Food & Health Report, Purchase Drivers and Shopping Patterns

4 Grand View Research