Sugar reduction and digestive health are 2 key trends driving product development, but did you know they are inherently linked? The combination of both trends is bringing an interesting evolution in healthier product development. Every time we talk to customers about the link between more fiber and less sugar, we see their interest is ignited. Can you explain the relationship between sugar reduction and fiber? It is a question we have seen popping up several times, so we dug into the topic and brought some insights together.
Why sugar reduction is the nr 1 concern
Today 2 factors come together to accelerate the innovation in sugar reduction: first, the lasting consumer motivation to limit sugar intake, and second the regulatory landscape.
Limiting sugar was already the number one dietary concern for consumers prior to COVID-19, according to the International Food Information Council’s 2019 Food & Health Survey. The survey also found that respondents considered sugar the most likely ingredient to contribute to weight gain. In 2022, a Euromonitor Voice of Consumer Survey showed that weight loss is still a main reason for consumers to avoid sugar (59% of consumers). As a result, many manufacturers are looking for alternatives that will not increase the sugar content, whilst avoiding artificial sweeteners. Among all health claims, ‘no sugar’ has come into prominence, with relatively high presence in every sub category within food and beverages. It is the number 1 health claim in soft drinks and the number 2 health claim in packaged food, just after ‘whole grain’ (Euromonitor, Voice of the Consumer: Health and Nutrition Survey, 2022).
Around the globe, consumers show a strong motivation to reduce their sugar intake. In the US, 55% of adults would like to eat less sugar in their diet. In Chile, 37% of adults agree that low sugar is a top factor when shopping for food. In China 58% of adults aged 18-59 think the need to reduce their sugar intake (Mintel Trends and Innovation in Sugar Reduction, December 2021).
The sugar reduction revolution is also encouraged by governments in countries like Mexico, UK and South-Africa, who successfully imposed sugar taxes to reduce obesity (Obesity Hub). In December 2022 the WHO calls on more countries to follow the example of the 3 pioneering countries, to tax sugar-sweetened beverages to save lives.
Sugar alternatives must balance health, taste and naturalness
From a technical point of view, replacing sugar in food is more challenging than in beverage, due to the multiple functions of sugar in recipes, as a bulking agent and stabilizer. From a consumer insights point of view, manufacturers should find the right balance between health, taste and naturalness, to win with sugar reduction, says Mintel. (Mintel, What’s next for sweeteners and sugar reduction, 2022).
Next to natural sweeteners like Stevia and allulose, unexpected ingredients are being used in new ways to reduce sugar. For example, a blend of acacia gum and stevia can work as a sugar alternative. Another example is cocoa pulp, which is being introduced as a sustainable new ingredient to add sweetness and replace refined sugar in chocolate and confectionery, delivering a more natural image. Besides adding sweetness, the cacao pulp also brings value by recycling a side product that would otherwise go to waste (Mintel, The Future of Ingredients 2020).
Early 2020 Mondelez announced its patent on soluble corn fiber for reduced sugar chocolate (Fooddive, 16 January 2020).. Soluble corn fiber can reduce sugar content in chocolate, while retaining similar levels of sweetness and leaving no aftertaste (Ingredients Network, 20 January 2020). Soluble corn fiber is an attractive solution to reduce sugar, as an Innova survey already found in 2019 that 3 in 5 US consumers prefer to limit their sugar intake instead of replacing it with artificial sweeteners (Fooddive, 21 November 2019). This desire to cut sugar intake was reconfirmed in 2022 by Euromonitor’s Voice of Consumer Health and Nutrition Survey.
By focussing on what is added instead of sugar, brands can give their product a transparent and positive image. Adding fruit ingredients for sweetness is gaining popularity too, as sugars from fruit are perceived to be naturally healthier and are therefore better accepted by consumers.
What’s the link between sugar and fiber?
Fiber and sugar are both carbohydrates. It is possible to use fiber to replace some of the sugars in food products. The amount of fiber added to a product has an immediate effect on the amount of sugar. More fiber equals less sugar. This has a positive effect on Nutrient Profiling Systems, like Nutriscore, HFSS score or traffic light system.
How this works in practice
- In chocolate
Mondelez new patented sugar reduction ingredient for chocolate, soluble corn fibre allows to reduce sugar in chocolate by 30%, while the fibre count is increasing from 1,7g/100g to 10,2 g per 100g. They replaced 19,27% of the sugar by soluble corn fibre. (Source: Patentscope).
Strauss has been working on a similar effort, reducing the sugar levels in its milk chocolate by 30% by replacing sugar by 17% dietary fibres and 5% tigernut flour.
- In cookies
Our team has conducted a consumer panel test with several recipes with sugar reduced cookies where we added TAURA fruit pieces to the dough, to test the effect on consumer liking (Source: Taura Sweet Spots Webinar). The test showed that adding TAURA fruit pieces to a sugar-reduced cookie can make up for a 30% total sugar content reduction. due to their ‘sweet spots’ effect. The naturally very sweet pieces will provide a lingering sweet aftertaste, compensating for the overall loss of sweetness in the entire cookie.
- In fruit snacks
Let’s take a fruit snack as an example. Our R&D team recently developed JusFruit Fiber+, a high-fiber fruit ingredient that allows to reduce sugar content up to 30%. Here is how it works. We partly replaced the fruit juice in our pieces with soluble corn fiber, offering a double benefit, explains Els Vandenberghe, Global Technical Manager Inclusions at IFF. “The use of fibers instead of juice decreases the amount of mono- and disaccharides naturally present in our standard fruit ingredients. In this way the sugar content of our pieces can be decreased by up to 30%, whilst maintaining a nice taste and texture. Besides the benefits of a lower sugar content, the pieces produced this way also contain very high amounts of dietary fiber. ”
Depending on the desired outcome for a product (desired mouthfeel, nutritional profile, taste and texture) our team can recommend a tailormade solution, e.g. by combining JusFruit Fiber+ and JusFruit Puree+. Everything starts with the consumer product in mind.
2-digit growth for fiber-rich snacks
Choosing fiber as a sugar replacement is a double win: first, adding more fiber means it is possible to reduce sugar and second, the sales perspectives look promising. If we look at Mintel figures between 2016 and 2018, we see a growth of 12,8% per year for snacks with a high / added fiber claim in Europe. If we look at the new product launches in bars, sweet biscuits and fruit snacks over the last 5 years (2018-2022), we see high fiber stays the main claim with 19,3% of all product launches (Mintel GNPD Search, February 2023).
The rise in high-fiber product launches makes perfect sense, since digestive health is no longer a trend but has become a mainstream public health topic. Consumers have become more aware of the benefits of fiber for gut health, which is incredibly important for many aspects of a daily healthy life – like driving immunity, energy, metabolism, mood, and even skin health. Even people who eat 5 to 8 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per day are not achieving the daily recommended fiber intake level of 25-30g per day. This reality creates opportunities for fiber rich snacks: these are likely to become a regular addition to people’s daily diet.
- The combination of consumer awareness about sugar reduction & digestive health and the regulatory landscape to encourage sugar reduction is accelerating the development of healthier cookies, bars and snacks
- Replacing (part of) the sugar in recipes by fiber can allow brands to help consumers with a healthier diet.
- Recent innovations by Mondelez, Strauss and TAURA demonstrate the possibility to reduce sugar up to 30% in chocolate and in fruit snacks. Natural alternatives for sugar, such as soluble corn fiber and fruit ingredients are an attractive solution to reduce sugar and to retain a sweet taste.
- By focusing on what is added instead of sugar, brands can give their product a transparent and positive image. Adding fruit ingredients is perceived to be naturally healthier and is therefore accepted as a good and tasty sugar alternative by consumers. Fruit inclusions can increase the sweetness perception in sugar reduced cookies in a natural way.
Check out our Whitepaper about fiber-rich snacks: