To keep consumers eating dairy products, processors are investigating ingredient technologies to sweeten, naturally and healthfully. Formulators are relying on synergistic sweetening systems, along with premium flavors and other value-added ingredients that allow for the production of a satisfying product with acceptable sweetness. Interestingly, the consumer’s appetite for hot, spicy and ethnic flavors may have helped curb cravings for overly sweet dairy products. This has helped with reducing — or even eliminating — added sugars.
Caloric-carbohydrate sweeteners will soon be singled out as “added sugars” when used in product formulations due to new mandatory nutrition labeling regulations released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on May 20, 2016. The required Nutrition Facts updates include a line for “added sugars,” with the current line item of “sugars” to be called “total sugars.” The value for total sugars includes all naturally occurring sugars, such as lactose in milk and fructose in fruit, and added sugars.
No Daily Value was set for total sugars; however, for added sugars, it is 10% of calories, or 50 grams for adults and children more than four years of age. The F.D.A. based the new requirement on a review of the science underlying the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines and its intent is to help Americans make healthier dietary choices by monitoring their intake of added sugars.
“Intense focus on added sugars consumption and links to obesity, diabetes and heart disease is motivating consumers to not only reduce total sweetener consumption, but to also switch to sweeteners perceived as more healthful,” said David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md.
Dairy processors have been working to reduce or eliminate added sugars for some time. This is because the sugar content of products such as flavored milk and yogurt has undermined the important role the foods have in helping consumers meet their intake of key nutrients.
“In the U.S., sugar formulation changes are really just beginning since the nutrition labeling regulations do not go into effect until mid-2018,” said Sarah Theodore, market analyst, Mintel, Chicago. “For the dairy category, the focus on sugar will force brands to shift or expand their attention from fat, which for decades was what consumers were told to avoid in the diet.”
Low-, no- and reduced-sugar claims were found on only 4% of new U.S. dairy product introductions in 2014, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database. This year, that figure will be more than 7%.
Globally, spoonable yogurt is the dairy segment where there’s the most activity regarding sugar reduction. This is followed by drinking yogurts and flavored milk.
The most common sugar-related claims are comparisons to traditional or regular versions of the product. This is either stated as a reduction per cent or sugar grams per serving.
“No-added-sugar claims may start to become more popular later this year as the new regulations date nears,” Ms. Theodore said. “We are also starting to see brands highlight the type of sugar the product contains, when that sugar is one perceived as more healthful, such as honey or maple syrup.”
Consumer perception of sweeteners
A consumer study by Beneo, Morris Plains, N.J., indicates that U.S. consumers are gaining a better understanding that not all sugars are alike. It also showed that sugars play a role in consumer behavior when dealing with health concerns.
The study of 1,000 U.S. consumers was designed to better understand consumer perceptions of sweeteners. Respondents indicated they are aware that the amount and type of sugars play a role in coping with health issues. Fifty-seven per cent of the consumers polled said they try to reduce their sugar intake. A healthy diet (58%), weight management (56%) as well as tooth decay and diabetes (37% and 28%, respectively) were named by respondents as reasons to limit sugar intake. On the other hand, respondents said they are not prepared to completely forego sugar, with taste being the No. 1 reason.
While consumers said they have an ambivalent attitude toward to sugar, they indicated that there is awareness that some sugars are better for their health than others. Sugar from honey, for example, was perceived as the most appealing sweetener because it is natural. About two out of three respondents agreed naturally derived sugars from fruits, vegetables and plants are healthier. A similar number also said they preferred natural sugars to low-calorie sweeteners (65%). Finally, 60% of the consumers polled indicated their ideal sweetener would not lead to a “sugar boost and crash effect.”
Innovations on tap
A number of processors are selecting naturally sweet fruits to allow for a no-added-sugars claim. For example, Kourellas Dairy, headquartered in Grevena, Greece, and co-packing yogurt in the United States, naturally sweetens its yogurt with fruit puree imported from Greece. The yogurts contain no added sweetener of any type.
WhiteWave Foods, Denver, offers Wallaby Organic Purely Unsweetened Whole Milk Greek Yogurt. The dual-compartment package has unsweetened plain authentically strained whole milk yogurt in one side and unsweetened fruit prep in the other. There are no added sweeteners of any kind.
Other dairies choose to achieve the no-sugar-added claim by sweetening with natural high-intensity sweeteners such as stevia and monk fruit. Another strategy is to use such naturally sweet ingredients as some fibers and flavors. Some processors manipulate milk’s inherent lactose (a disaccharide) by breaking it down into the monosaccharides galactose and glucose, which are sweeter than lactose.
For fermented dairy foods, such as yogurt and kefir, there are cultures designed to assist with maximum sweetness formation. Together, culture and enzyme systems allow for the production of lower-sugar, authentic-tasting fermented dairy foods.
The President’s Choice brand, a private label of Canada’s Loblaw’s supermarket chain, now offers Greek Yogurt with Oats. The variegate component is sweetened with stevia and contains chicory root inulin, which adds sweetness and fiber. (See sidebar on Page 37.)
Dannon Oikos Triple Zero, which was introduced in early 2015, contains zero fat, zero added sugar and zero artificial sweeteners. To sweeten the yogurt without adding sugar, the formulation relies on a variety of technologies, including stevia; chicory root fiber, which contributes sweetness while also delivering 6 grams of fiber per serving; and the lactase enzyme.
Portland, Ore.-based Sunshine Dairy Foods recently introduced Sunshine Power, a no-added-sugar milk-based protein beverage. Lactase enzyme makes the milk a bit sweeter, with the additional sweetness coming from stevia.
In New Zealand, Anchor Dairy developed Anchor Uno, a gluten-free probiotic yogurt made with fruit puree. Targeted to children, the yogurt is formulated with iron, zinc, folate, and vitamins B6 and vitamin D to help support immunity. The yogurts are also free of artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners and are said to be the lowest-sugar children’s yogurt in the market. About 25% to 30% of the sugar in Uno is naturally occurring from the lactose in milk, and the remaining is added sugar from the fruit preparation. A 100-gram serving contains 85 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of protein and 6 to 7 grams of sugar, depending on flavor.
In the United Kingdom, dairy processor Müller reformulated its Kids Corner brand of yogurt by changing the recipe to now feature 50% less added sugar. The product features a combination of fructose and sucralose to reduce the total sugar content.
Valio has done something similar for consumers in the Finnish market. The new Play yogurt line contains 40% less sugar than other children’s yogurts, with each 100-gram serving containing 10 grams of sugar, 5.6 grams are added for sweetness while the other 4.4 grams are naturally occurring in the fruit.
“Sugar is under pressure, although it remains the key ingredient delivering the sweetness and great taste that consumers are looking for,” said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation, Innova Market Insights, Arnhem, The Netherlands. “The quest to combine taste and health is driving new product development, as the industry faces the challenge of balancing public demand to reduce added sugars and create indulgent experiences, while at the same time presenting clean label products.”
One of the most common fiber food ingredients is chicory root fiber, also known as inulin. Though it currently is not on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s list of fiber ingredients, per the agency’s May 20, 2016, proposed definition of fiber, suppliers of the ingredient jointly submitted a petition to the F.D.A. on Sept. 12, 2016, requesting the ingredient, in its varied forms, be added to the list. Prior to the May 20 ruling, suppliers and manufacturers qualified and quantified chicory root fiber inulin as fiber by A.O.A.C. analysis.
In the petition, the F.D.A. was provided with studies showing that chicory root fiber inulin meets the F.D.A.’s fiber definition of: isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates (with three or more monomeric units) determined by the F.D.A. to have physiological effects that are beneficial to human health.
“Inulin-type fructans from chicory are one of the most studied food ingredients in the world,” said Carl Volz, president, Sensus America, Lawrenceville, N.J. “It is defined as fiber in Europe, Canada and the rest of the world. We are very confident it will be defined as fiber as we go through this process with F.D.A.”
Recognition as fiber will aid dairy processors with boosting the nutrient of concern in everything from milk beverages to ice cream to yogurt, aiding consumers with meeting their daily requirements. Use also may help with reducing added sugars in the products. That is because on Oct. 20, 2016, Sensus received written legal analysis by Covington & Burling L.L.P., Washington, that determined chicory root fiber inulin ingredients, which have varying degrees of sweetness, do not fit the F.D.A.’s definition of added sugar. This means chicory root fiber inulin ingredients can assist with taking sugar out and putting fiber into dairy products.
Some ingredients provide more sweetness than others, and their ability to work synergistically with other no-added-sugar sweetening systems varies, too. At only two calories per gram, versus sugar’s four calories per gram, these ingredients may also help lower calorie content.