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Trends in sugars and sweeteners [Interview]

We asked Emma Schofield, Global Food Science Analyst at MINTEL, about recent trends in sugar and sweetener ingredients, as well as some innovative emerging clean-label solutions to sugar reduction.

Consumers across Europe are trying to reduce the amount of sugar they consume, but sweeteners aren't always liked by consumers either. What do consumers think about sugar and sweeteners, and which claims are important to them? We asked Emma Schofield, Global Food Science Analyst at MINTEL, about recent trends in sugar and sweetener ingredients, as well as some innovative emerging clean-label solutions to sugar reduction.

What is driving demand for low sugar products?

“Many consumers are now more relaxed about fat, than about sugar. Sugar has overtaken fat as the latest ‘food villain’, and brands are taking consumers’ growing concerns about sugar very seriously."

"Aside from consumer pressure, government health departments continue to drive the food industry into playing their part in encouraging consumers towards healthier eating habits. In March 2017 Public Health England announced ambitious sugar reduction guidelines. The UK food industry has been tasked with delivering a ‘20% by 2020’ sugar reduction across nine food categories that contribute the most sugar in people’s diet. Recently, a wave of ‘no added sugar’ innovations have hit the market place, however natural sugars will not escape the spotlight.”

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What sugar alternatives are proving most popular with consumers?

“Product launches using natural sweeteners are likely to continue to grow as producers look for ways to reduce sugar without using artificial sweeteners. However, producers will need to prove that natural sweeteners really are safe and natural, if they are to remain attractive with consumers. Consumers are concerned about the type (as well as the quantity) of sugar used in food and drink. Consumers seek sugars with a natural image that they can link back to a plant source, such as honey, or fruit juice.”

“Demand for clean-label sugar reduction, where the products sensory qualities remain unaltered has seen some innovative strategies to sugar-reduction hit the market place. Enzymes can be used to deliver sugar-reduction in dairy, as an example. Similarly, flavour houses are innovating using ‘less sweet’ flavour profiles, such as sour, bitter and savoury, in the development of ‘lower sugar’ innovations.”

Relating to sugar, what nutritional claims are most popular among consumers?

“Claims such as ‘reduced sugar’ or ‘low sugar’ aren’t always popular, as many consumers link these types of claim with poor taste, and long and artificial ingredients lists. Claims relating to sugar that are trending are those that link sugar with naturalness, such as ‘no added sugar’, ‘only naturally occurring sugars’, or ‘sweetened with fruit juices’. 45% of UK consumers agree that a product labelled as ‘no added sugar’ is more appealing than one labelled as ‘low/reduced sugar’.”

“Health in general is a growing consumer trend. How do you see this affect the F&B industry in 3-5 years’ time?

"Immune health, digestive health and antioxidant claims are the most common health claims in European food, drink and healthcare product launches. Producers can target Europe’s aging population with products that cater to the specific needs of different age groups of seniors. Heart health, brain and cognitive health, and bone health are examples of health claims that appeal to senior consumers. Gut microbiome discoveries continue to reveal the link between gut health and our overall health and wellbeing. Gut-microbiome discoveries will raise attention to digestive health, which will continue to drive demand for ingredients that support digestive health, such as fibre, and probiotics.”

“Producers can start to target the ‘new’ health problems of today, rather than nutritional deficiencies of yesterday. Air pollution in European capitals is likely to draw new attention to lung and respiratory health. The digital era is drawing new attention to children’s eye health, with concern being expressed about the impact that screen time has on the health of children’s eyes. ‘New’ attention given to eye health, due to screen time, may bring new opportunities for eye health nutrients such as vitamin A; long standing ally of the eye.”

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