Sugar in the Food Supply: Action and Reaction
Change is afoot in the food supply. The last time we saw such sweeping changes, food makers responded to low-fat dietary guidelines by replacing fats in their products with carbs and especially sugar. Obesity took off and three decades later, the villain is sugar, not fat. In July 2018, Nutrition Facts labels will call out added sugars.
So food makers are busy reacting to this sea change with sweeping changes in their products. Here are a few examples.
1. Labeling claims about sugar are multiplying rapidly. “Low sugar” claims are up 32%. “No added sugar” and “sugar-free” claims are also growing sharply
2. Naturally sugar-laden products can sidestep the bad rap behind a claim of no added sugar while still delivering a big dose of sugar. Cold-pressed juice might have 25 grams of sugar in a serving – more than a serving of soda. But zero added sugar allows these healthy halo products to skate free.
3. Reformulation work is keeping food companies busy. Smucker’s is leaning on its low-sugar varieties and using more honey for sweetening. Though honey is loaded with calories, “naturally sweetened with honey” plays well with consumers. The Nesquik chocolate drink brand will see its sugar content cut in half next year. That Nesquik bunny will shrink and the brand will become less focused on kids.
4. Innovation is giving food makers tools for cutting sugar. Lots of work is going into improving the flavor profile of stevia. As a natural low calorie sweetener, marketers like it better than artificial sweeteners. But it has a bit of an aftertaste. Sugar alcohols (like mannitol) are finding favor because they offer a good flavor profile and fewer calories. Most interesting is Nestlé’s announcement that they are patenting a new form of sugar that delivers more sweetness with less sugar.
5. New Flavors are trending away from sweetness. Savory yogurts are building momentum, for example. This trend gives us hope that palates can adapt to more sophisticated flavors in higher quality foods.
Right now, the ripples from concerns about sugar are moving in many directions. Clearly the food supply is changing. But the net effect will not be apparent for a few years.
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February 19, 2017