KANSAS CITY — Product developers focused on sugar reduction may need to get a bigger toolbox. As consumer interest in reducing sugar intake has increased, so has the number of solutions available to product developers to accomplish their goals.

Consumer research conducted by the FMCG Gurus, St. Albans, United Kingdom, on behalf of ingredient supplier Beneo Inc., which has US offices in Parsippany, NJ, highlights how the coronavirus (COVID-19) has intensified consumer interest in their own well-being.

“The results of our latest consumer survey clearly show that beneficial ingredients and label transparency are now more important than ever before to consumers across the globe, as a result of the pandemic,” said Michael Hughes, director of insights for FMCG Gurus. “People are exploring topics such as inner defense, staying fit and healthy, blood glucose control, as well as sustained energy and wanting to buy products with proven health benefits.”

The FMCG research showed COVID-19 also has resulted in 64% of consumers saying they are now more conscious about their immune health. Even consumers who previously deemed themselves to have a good immune system are now questioning their vulnerability to disease and illness. This attitude shift is having an impact on purchasing behavior, with 64% of consumers more interested in ingredients, or food and drink products, that provide protective or preventative health benefits. This trend is likely to remain prevalent in the market for the foreseeable future, the company said.

“The growing number of health-conscious consumers is leading the demand for sugar reduction,” said Adela Casas, technical sales and business development manager for Sweetener Solutions, Pooler, Ga. “The ‘added sugar’ required line on the Nutrition Facts Panel has made consumer packaged goods more transparent, facilitating decision making.”

To meet this need, companies are bringing new ingredient technologies and innovations to market at a rapid pace. In early October, Firmenich, Geneva, Switzerland, and Novozymes, Copenhagen, Denmark, introduced TasteGem SWL with Saphera lactase, a system that enables up to 50% sugar reduction in yogurt and other dairy products without the use of sweeteners.

The patent-pending system unlocks the naturally occurring sweetness of milk and bridges the sensory gaps that arise when sugar is removed, according to Firmenich.

“We are seeing a significant shift, with consumers ranking reducing sugar as the No. 1 health consideration in their food and beverage choices,” said Emmanuel Butstraen, president of flavors for Firmenich. “Building on our industry-leading, proprietary sugar reduction capabilities, we have joined forces with Novozymes, to develop uniquely optimized dairy solutions for our customers that are both delicious and nutritionally balanced.”

TasteGem SWL with Saphera lactase enables up to 50% sugar reduction in yogurt and other dairy products.

Another new sugar reduction ingredient comes from DouxMatok, a food technology company based in Israel that has developed a cane sugar-based ingredient shown to reduce sugar in applications by up to 40%. Food and beverage companies in North America soon may have opportunities to test the sugar now that DouxMatok is collaborating with Rogers Sugar Inc., Montreal, Canada, the parent company of Lantic, Inc. Lantic will produce the ingredient. DouxMatok will handle marketing and selling.

The product maximizes the efficiency of sugar delivery to the sweet taste receptors, which enhances people’s perception of the sweetness.

“If you can improve the efficiency of the delivery of sugar within a cake to the taste receptors, you will be perceiving a lot more sweetness with less sugar,” said Eran Baniel, chief executive officer of DouxMatok.

Besides cakes, other potential applications include cookies, confectionery items and chocolate.

The two companies already are working with some food companies to support the development of new products as well as the reformulation of existing products to contain less sugar, more fiber and more protein.

The DouxMatok sugar can work with other ingredients, said Liat Cinamon, vice president of business development. An example would be taking 100% of the sugar out of a customer’s product and replacing 50% of it with the DouxMatok ingredient and 50% of it with other ingredients, like fiber or protein, to add nutritional value.

DouxMatok in July 2018 partnered with Südzucker, a sugar company in Europe, to commercialize the DouxMatok sugar throughout Europe.

“At the moment with the pull we see from North America and being a small company, we have moved our resources first to conclude the launch of the work in North America before we go back and continue the work in Europe,” Mr. Baniel said.

Ms. Casas sees the additional resources as a way to help product developers expand and enhance their knowledge about sugar reduction.

“It provides companies with more options to successfully reduce sugar content and still create a great taste,” she said. “Apart from the shift to reduce sugar, there has also been a shift of which kind of sweeteners to use for that reduction. There has been an increased demand for natural sweeteners such as stevia, monk fruit, erythritol and the up-and-coming allulose.”

In late October, Sweegen, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., announced the expansion of its natural sweetener portfolio with the commercial production of Reb I, which will be sold under the company's Besteva brand. The ingredient works well with a variety of applications, including dairy, beverages, nutrition bars, confectionery and savory, according to the company.

Ingredients such as allulose, D-tagatose and isomultulose have gained notoriety due to how the Food and Drug Administration may approach the inclusion of such ingredients on food and beverage Nutrition Facts panels.

The Food and Drug Administration is considering exempting some ingredients from being counted as added sugars.

In 2019, the FDA published draft guidance that said the agency would exercise enforcement discretion for the exclusion of allulose from the amount of total sugars and added sugars declared on the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts label and that allulose has 0.4 calories per gram. Allulose produces a negligible increase in glycemic and insulinemic responses and is not readily fermented in the large intestine, according to the FDA.

In October of this year, the FDA requested information about sugars like D-tagatose and isomaltulose that are metabolized differently than sugar. Such information eventually could lead the FDA to change how the sweeteners are labeled on the Nutrition Facts Label.

“The FDA is committed to providing information to manufacturers regarding the new Nutrition Facts Label, which is why today we are also seeking information on certain sugars and sweeteners that are metabolized differently than other traditional sugars,” said Susan Mayne, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “The use of sugars and sweeteners that provide fewer calories, that are not associated with dental cavities, and that result in a lower glycemic and insulinemic response than other sugars could be one way for industry to make products that help consumers meet dietary recommendations to limit added sugars intake.”

Beneo, a supplier of isomaltose, sees FDA’s request for information as positive.

“Due to today’s public health policy direction, all mono- and disaccharides (sugars) are regarded as ‘bad for you’ and thus should be reduced and replaced,” said Anke Sentko, vice president of regulatory affairs and nutrition communication for Beneo. “All oligo- and polysaccharides are regarded as good for human nutrition. This classification based on food chemistry is not justified as not all sugars are the same in their physiological effects, and it is physiology that counts if health should be supported.”

She added that a carbohydrate that is available to the body and is digested slowly, leading to a low blood glucose response and low insulin response and allows for fat oxidation in energy management is a carbohydrate of good physiological quality, no matter if it is a monosaccharide, disaccharide, oligosaccharide or polysaccharide.

“In a food labeling system that singles out sugars from total carbohydrates and stipulates sugars as bad, those sugars that are not bad need to be excluded from the ‘total sugars’ and ‘added sugars’ definition and counted as neutral carbohydrates,” Ms. Sentko said.