While reductive options continue to grow and become more sophisticated, sugar reduction remains far from a one-size-fits-all solution.

Trends of sugar reduction remain an important touchpoint throughout the perimeter, particularly among younger consumers who increasingly prefer less sweetness. The Hartman Group’s Reimagining Health and Wellness Amid COVID-19 report found 46% of consumers say they are avoiding artificial sweeteners and 42% of consumers say they are avoiding or decreasing refined sugar. Similarly, ADM’s whitepaper, The Perfect Balance: Successful Sugar Reduction for Today’s Marketplace found 46% say no added sugar is important and 39% say reduced sugar is important.

IRI International, Chicago, found low sugar/sugar reduced is one of the fastest growing BFY claims in bakery. While the overall attribute is driving growth, it’s still limited with the low/less/no sugar claim at the highest share of dollars at 1.2% in breads and rolls and in pies and cakes. Most growth in lower-sugar breads/buns/rolls can be found within the flourishing keto market.

“Sweet snacks and desserts are generally indulgent, so consumers may want the full sugar/full fat nature of a treat versus looking for low sugar options,” said Melissa Altobelli, vice president of client insight, dairy and bakery, IRI. “However, within bakery, we are seeing strong growth from products with no artificial sweetener claims and in Edible products with natural sweetener claims.”

Cargill, Minneapolis, continues to see the rise of permissible indulgence with plenty of opportunity for reduced-sugar baked goods. In the U.S., bakery launches with a sweetener claim were up 24.4% in 2021, nearly doubling from 2016. In 2021, nearly a third (29.8%) of bakery launches with a sweetener claim contained stevia, according to Courtney LeDrew, senior marketing manager, Cargill. Innova Market Insights found three in five consumers would prefer to reduce sugar intake rather than replace it with consuming artificial sweeteners.

“While previous generations were raised on a “the sweeter, the tastier” mentality, many younger consumers prefer unsweet in other categories,” said JP Frossard, vice president, consumer foods, Rabobank, Atlanta, Chicago.

Bellarise/PakGroup NA, Pasadena, Calif., sees bread products with less sugar trending among young consumers who choose perceived better-for-you flats, tortillas and wraps over traditional sliced bread.

“For the most part, younger generations such as Millennials and Gen Z opt for better-for-you breads when compared to Boomers and Gen Z,” said Cam Suárez-Bitár, director of marketing and public relations, Pak Group NA. “Younger generations also tend to read the label more closely.”

Proactive eating

Grocery retailers are also taking note with a range of products that allow customers to have their cake and eat it too. Instore and online, Kroger, Cincinnati, offers its Bakery Fresh Goodness sugar-free reduced calorie angel food cake and no sugar added apple pie. Walmart, Bentonville, Ark., offers sugar-free sliced lemon crème cake, no sugar added apple pie and Marketside brand sugar-free cookies in chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin varieties.

Foodservice operators looking to add reduced sugar and sugar-free bakery offerings turn to providers such as Bernard Food Industries, Evanston, Ill., manufacturer of Sans Sucre baking mixes and Bernard Blondie and Chocolate Fudge brownie mixes. Gage Foods, Bensenville, Ill., distributes Golden Choice sugar free chocolate fudge brownie mix, sugar-free, sucralose-sweetened desserts; low-sugar icing, muffin and pancake mix, mousse, pie filling, pudding, sugar-free cookies, fruit filling and crisp topping, whip topping and lower sugar cheesecake. To top those items, Buffalo, N.Y.-based Rich’s, distributes On Top sugar free whipped topping, which can be used for hot and cold applications, along with sugar-free chocolate-flavored chip cookie dough.

Offering a range of traditional sweet goods, Main Street Gourmet, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, also produces Isabella’s Healthy Bakery sugar-free and no sugar added muffins sweetened with stevia. This is in addition to a muffin line using fruit as a naturally occurring sugar, sugar-free pound cakes and sugar-free and no sugar added cookies.

Others who originally started in the gluten-free bakery space are finding successful crossovers within the sugar-free bakery category. Italian bakery Cookies Con Amore, San Marcos, Calif., makes sugar-free Nocciola, Biscotti and assorted cookies. Another gluten-free bakery, Katz, Mountainville, N.Y., offers sugar-free oat rolls that are free from dairy, nuts and soy.

Substitution Question

But removing sugar from a formulation isn’t easy. Sugar’s range of functionality is extensive; imparting firmness and texture, freeze/thaw stability, humectancy, preservation, texture and viscosity, solubility, color, aromatics, sweetness, bake stability and gas holding. Because of its critical role, no single ingredient can successfully serve as a full replacement. Taste expectations are also critical, and formulators must consider its intensity, ability to linger, onset of sweetness and overall taste.

When pursuing sugar reduction, Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill., finds it’s essential to consider not only the sweetness replacement but also the substitution of other elements of functionality. The company’s PureCircle portfolio offers a variety of stevia-based ingredients along with a toolkit of functional build-back ingredients such as allulose, which provides some sweetness along with bulking and browning characteristics, low sugar syrups, and polyols including erythritol and maltitol.

“Functional build-back ingredients provide the bulking and browning characteristics you’d typically expect from sugar in baked goods but without all the grams of sugar or calories, depending on the ingredient,” said Christina Coles, senior associate marketing manager, sugar reduction & specialty sweeteners, Ingredion.

Ingredion also offers a Sweetener Sustainability Calculator that can determine the potential environmental impact of several common sweeteners and alternative sweetener ingredients.

Brand dollar sales, percent change versus a year ago

Sara Lee Delightful

$128,943,740 +25.3%

Food for Life Ezekiel 4.9

$74,118,452 +7.5%

Lewis Healthy Life

$45,138,443 +132.1%

Extraordinary Bites

$5,184,126 +217.1%

Naghash Lavash

$2,609,235 +70.5%

IRI International: Latest 52 Week Pd Ending 08-07-22