Consumers are reducing sugar in their diet, and value-added sweeteners stand to appeal to more than just a sweet tooth.
The national campaign to reduce obesity isn’t falling on deaf ears. Tough the economy still dogs consumers, many are willing to spend extra on foods and ingredients that will help them battle the bulge. And as the market for reduced-calorie and sugarfree offerings grows, so do bakers’ options.
According to the Calorie Control Council, an international organization representing the low-calorie and reduced-fat food and beverage industry, the top trends in weight loss in 2011 reveal consumers’ adoption of minor lifestyle changes to improve health. Changes such as increased consumption of products labeled as light–many of which containing sugar replacers–and adopting the recently updated dietary guidelines–which suggest reducing added sugars in the diet–are simple behavioral changes that could have a big impact on obesity.
This behavioral shift, coupled with a growing national commitment to the prevention and control of diabetes, is expanding the market for sugar-free and reduced-sugar foods.
Baked products formulated to provide the texture, flavor and, most significantly, the indulgence factor, while mimicking or improving on conventional fare, will win market share as consumers continue to seek out foods that will help keep them on the dietary straight and narrow.
But beyond looking for “free from” products that claim to be devoid of an ingredient with a negative reputation, consumers also are demanding desserts that provide additional healthful properties or social benefits.
The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Inc. (NASFT), sponsors of the San Francisco Fancy Food show in January, highlighted “desserts with benefits” as a major specialty food trend for 2011. This brings sugar replacers and alternative sweeteners with additional functional benefits or on-trend features to the forefront.
Stevia is a sweetener that stands to make waves in the baking industry, though ingredient companies may have only scratched the surface of its potential. Stevia-based brands still prompt confusion about exactly where they stand with the FDA. The South American herb Stevia rebaudiana itself, commonly known as the stevia plant, has not yet made the FDA’s GRAS ingredients list. But a plant derivative called rebaudioside A (Reb A), or rebiana, has been granted GRAS status, and ingredient companies are already applying it. From Reb A, Cargill and Coca-Cola developed the sweetener brand Truvia, while PepsiCo and the Whole Earth Sweetener Co. developed PureVia.
Stevia has gained traction of late. A consumer survey released last year by the NPD Group revealed that 35 percent of consumers said they either already ate or would consider eating or drinking products containing stevia.
Observing that stevia is poised to become “the holy grail of sweeteners,” Mintel reported that since December 2008, stevia sales (which include stevia, Truvia and PureVia) have exploded. In the first eight months of 2009 alone, Mintel found that more than 100 stevia-containing products had been released in the United States.
By mid-July of that same year, sales topped $95 million, a substantial increase over the $21 million achieved in all of 2008. The report predicts the stevia market could exceed $2 billion by the end of 2011.
But, says Ann Clark Tucker, director of marketing and communications for Truvia, Cargill is “not sure we are ready for prime time” for the commercial bakery industry, although the company is “working on bigger applications in baking for the future.” In its report on consumer packaged goods trends for 2011, Mintel predicts “we should expect to see sugar and stevia used in conjunction to achieve an overall lower sugar content in new products. However, ‘stevia’ will not always be part of the overt communication. Instead we’ll see messaging like ‘naturally sweetened’ or ‘reduced sugar.’”
But according to Jim May, founder of SweetLeaf Sweetener®, both his stevia extract, which is 300 times sweeter than sugar, and his tabletop sweetener, which is 30 times sweeter than sugar, can be used in most baking applications.
At the foodservice level, chefs at Skyline Country Club in Tucson, Ariz., have used SweetLeaf in baked products for years. Jesse Torpe, general manager, hasn’t had a problem baking with stevia. “Some people have even said chocolate desserts made with SweetLeaf actually have a more intense chocolate flavor with no aftertaste or lingering sweetness,” he says.
And stevia-based sweeteners have the potential to deliver functional properties as well. The tabletop version of SweetLeaf uses inulin, a soluble fiber and prebiotic as a bulking agent. “About 70 percent of our immune function,” May says, “comes from our good intestinal bacteria.” Inulin is a primary food supply for these bacteria. Inulin has been found to increase calcium absorption and may increase magnesium absorption. It has little impact on blood sugar levels and does not increase triglyceride levels.
Whether it’s overtly advertised or used as a sugar reducing agent, stevia has the ability to significantly alter the baking landscape.
Xivia, newly branded from Danisco, is a sustainable (made from wood pulp) source of xylitol, a sugar alcohol sweetener used as a naturally occurring sugar substitute. According to Cathy Dorko, BioActives NAFTA, industry manager: bakery and fats and oils, Danisco USA Inc., New Century, Kansas, less energy is required to produce Xivia than other xylitol brands, resulting in a ‘greener’ product. In contrast to the Biomass Hydrolysis Process (BHP) used to make most other brands of xylitol, the Danisco Wood Based (DWB) integration process is 85 percent less impactful on the environment than BHP. The DWB manufacturing process eliminates the need for the use of acid hydrolysis, which uses sulfuric acid. Additionally, after xylose is processed from the pulp, the remaining side stream returns to the pulp plant for energy production.
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In combination with Danisco’s Litesse polydextrose, Xivia replaces sugar, imparting the same mouthfeel, functionality and performance as sugar but with calorie reduction and additional fiber, which is provided by the polydextrose. Use of Xivia maintains the balance in formulas, Dorko says. Originally focused on the diabetic market, baked products with Xivia are finding acceptance with consumers who wish to prevent disease, improve oral health and reduce caloric intake.
When it comes to the all natural and clean label trends, perception is everything. For all of sugar’s perceived faults, there are few processed ingredients that are more accepted as natural and clean, so replacing it on an ingredient list can be tricky when appealing to consumers seeking clean labels.
Compounding this, Mintel predicts the gap between perception and reality in the all natural market will tighten in 2011, with discerning consumers demanding clarification of the all natural claim.
Known entities such as agave and vanilla should fare well with consumers seeking shorter, simpler ingredient lists with familiar ingredient names. Tapioca syrup from Ciranda, Hudson, Wis., is organic, GMO-free and processed using natural enzymes. Tapioca syrups are available in a variety of dextrose equivalences and can be used to add body, to improve yeast fermentation and for color in baked products. Other syrups, such as malt syrup, maple syrup, and molasses, appeal to consumers looking for natural products and clean labels. And honey, while not sugar-free, appeals to consumers because it’s a naturally processed sweetener; honeybees do all the processing for distributors.
“From whole grains to probiotics, more and more commercial bakeries are focusing their new product introductions on bakery foods aimed at consumers who read labels and are concerned with the ingredients in the foods they eat,” says Bruce Wolk, marketing director for the National Honey Board, Firestone, Colo. “Honey is appealing on an ingredient listing, as it is a natural, pure ingredient familiar to all consumers.”
The clean label trend highlights the battle many new, unfamiliar sugar-replacing ingredients face. As a concept, green ingredients should fit in well with corporate mandates to reduce carbon footprints and make ingredient lists more consumer friendly. And health is on most consumers’ minds. But even the greenest and most healthful ingredients may have image problems.
Echoing Mintel’s predictions for consumers’ increased diligence on all natural claims, the Calorie Control Council has found that misleading and often confusing information has made the public skeptical of some ingredients.
Despite this skepticism, many sugar substitutes, noncaloric sweeteners and other similar ingredients are approved by the FDA as safe for consumption. Evidence shows that these sweeteners, when used appropriately, are safe for all individuals, including pregnant women and children.
The industry has a job to do when promoting these products, though. Ingredients such as inulin and polyols need to be explained to consumers who may shy away from unfamiliar ingredients, however healthful they may be. According to the NASFT, manufacturers would do well to “focus on accentuating the positives of what is in a product, rather than emphasizing what is not in it.”
Increasing public awareness of the processing and manufacturing steps taken to make these ingredients would go far. Asking consumers to consider sustainability when reading ingredient labels would as well. Education is a powerful thing.