There may be a need for alternative options for sugar in confectionery production, giving consumers an option to satisfy their craving without altering taste or flavour.
Over the last twelve months, consumers have been less attentive to their nutritional intake as they have turned to food and drink for moments of escapism to deal with the uncertainties of everyday life. Whilst the impact of COVID-19 continues to linger, consumers are re-evaluating their dietary habits, driven by increased concerns of weight gain brought about by comfort eating and drinking. This is something that will reignite the war on sugar. However, skepticism needs to be applied when assessing whether consumers are actually cutting down on their sugar intake when they say so.
Eating and drinking habits have been significantly impacted over the last twelve months, with consumers turning to products for moments of escapism to deal with the pressures of everyday life, a habit that will continue for the foreseeable future. FMCG Gurus research conducted in 2021 for instance, shows that 43% of consumers say that they continue to purchase comfort food such as ice cream and confectionery to deal with the stresses of COVID-19. This relates to 48% of consumers saying that they have become more conscious about their mental health because of worries such as the health and wellbeing of loved ones and the state of the economy. Whilst such moments of comfort eating help alleviate stress in the short-term, it is something that has conflicted with wider health goals. It is also a reason why 37% of the globe say that they are now more conscious about their weight. Consumers will be concerned about weight gain in the long-term because of the link with health problems such as cancer, while in the short-term they deem obese people more vulnerable to complications arising from the virus.
As a result of this, consumers are re-evaluating their dietary habits and are looking to make healthy eating a life goal. FMCG Gurus research shows that 76% of consumers say that they are not attempting to eat and drink more healthily as a result of COVID-19. When trying to improve their diets, consumers are adopting a back-to-basics approach to nutrition. This involves increasing their intake of fruit and vegetables (69%) and reducing their intake of dietary evils, namely sugar (59%). Consumers are well aware of the link between sugar and obesity, as well as diabetes and as such, the war on sugar will intensify over the next twelve months. This is something that will drive demand for products – especially in product categories inherently associated with indulgence – with low sugar claims, so that consumers can seek out products deemed guilt-free for moments of escapism.
However, whether consumers will actually reduce their sugar intake is a different matter. For instance, despite much attention over the last decade towards consumers taking a more proactive approach to health, 24% said that their health had deteriorated over the last two years in 2020. In comparison, 22% said that their health had improved. This shows that despite their best efforts to improve their health, many consumers feel it is on the decline. The reason for this is that consumers can struggle to stick to dietary habits in the long-term. This is because better-for-you products can be associated with reduced sensory appeal, something that consumers are less accepting of. This is especially true when it comes to natural sweeteners which can be associated with a bitter aftertaste.
As such, whilst consumers will demonstrate negative sentiment towards sugar over the next twelve months, brands should apply cautions when developing strategies around the reformulation of products and reducing sugar content/switching to alternative sweeteners. This is because irrespective of health concerns, consumers will continue to prioritise indulgence – especially as they seek out moments of indulgence to deal with the pressures of everyday life. This means that despite what they say, consumers will not be over attentive to their sugar intake over the next twelve months.
However, despite the need to apply caution to the war on sugar, sugar reduction is the clear trend and the need for sugar reduced products are increasing significantly. It is clear that new sugar reduced products will be coming to the market and opportunities to use sugar reduced products will increase. At Valio, they say they constantly receive inquiries about sugar reduction and lactose free milk powders, which are a simple to use replacement for sugar. High-protein and added protein products answer the still rising wellness trend, as consumers are looking for solutions that support an active and healthy lifestyle. Manufacturers who use milk powder to create reduced sugar chocolate can also get the “protein source” health claim, thanks to the protein in the ingredient.
Valio’s Eila Pro product, that is lactose free skimmed milk powder, manufactured from fresh Finnish milk using Valio’s patented technology for an unchanged milk mineral composition and natural taste of milk. It is suitable for manufacturing a large variety of lactose free food, from milk chocolate, ice cream and bakery products to ready meals, soups and sauces.
“43% of consumers say that they continue to purchase comfort food such as ice cream and confectionery to deal with the stresses of COVID-19”
To intercept consumers looking for food that benefits their health and helps them stay fit, intervening on the sugar component of their product is one of the first things to do. There are various options to do so, ranging from the use of alternative sweeteners in place of sucrose to the employment of fibers such as polydextrose, which lowers the glycemic index of foods with a slower assimilation by the body. Invert sugar, a sugar made by splitting sucrose into glucose and fructose, which allows for a significantly reduced sugar part and calories.
Many of CEPI’s installations include recipes based on alternative sweeteners or fibers. As they only need to be added in small quantities. CEPI handles them with Trimix, their station for the storing and accurate dosing of minor ingredients. Trimix is a fully automated broad-spectrum station which handles challenging materials without clogging or the formation of bridges even for hydroscopic ingredients and is suitable for continuous dosing. It has an easy to clean, hygienic design that prevents leaks and the formation of leftovers.
Another option is the creation of a mix in their 3 in 1 station, which provides weighing, pneumatic transport and blending in a single unit. It delivers a homogeneous blend in the span of a few minutes and can be used very effectively to disperse the sweetener.
Honey is becoming quite popular too, because it has a lower glycemic index than sucrose and does not raise blood sugar levels as fast. Being higher in fructose, it has more sweetening power so less is required. CEPI handles the storage and dosing of honey in liquid tanks with controlled temperature and the appropriate conveyance system for its viscosity.
However, honey has aromatic notes that can change the flavour of the product. If this is an issue, then invert sugar can be used: most of the sugar in honey is invert sugar, naturally produced by bees while transforming nectar into honey. Bees break sucrose into fructose and glucose with an enzyme called invertase: this process is called hydrolysis, and humans replicate it by subjecting a sucrose solution to heat and a catalyst, which can be enzymes or an acid ingredient like citric acid.
Invert sugar has many benefits and CEPI has developed a technology for its preparation, storing and dosing to allow manufacturers complete control and optimisation of the process.
Invert sugar is used extensively across a wide range of food industries. While it is mostly known for its sweetening power and freshness preserving properties, it has a lot of appealing qualities for food manufacturers. It lowers the freezing point and delays crystallisation, improving the upright power of creams, and it makes fillings creamier. It is very useful for icings and glazes and provides a consistent, soft centre to candies and chocolates. Invert sugar has a higher affinity for water and can be used as humectant in cakes and similar products, and it enhances colour and flavour as well as freshness. With less crystallisation, it creates a smoother texture and improved mouth feel. Due to the presence of free fructose and its natural affinity for fruit flavours, it is used for soft drinks as well as confectionery or bakery goods that contain fruit or are fruit flavoured.
These are only some of the reasons why food makers choose invert sugar. CEPI’s system allows in-house production which is our recommended choice, as it sharply increases flexibility by granting complete control over the process and parameters such as amount of water and temperature, as well as removing the need for storage.
As consumer demands continue to shift and alter buying patterns across the confectionery sector in both the short- and long-term, it will be those manufacturers that are prepared to push the sensory boundaries that will give shoppers the excitement that they are looking for, whilst maintaining the health benefits that is growing in importance.
Stefania Montalti, Communications Manager at Cepi says:
If the manufacturer chooses to use an alternative sweetener, they will have a further choice between natural ones such as stevia and various polyols like maltitol erythritol, or artificial ones such as aspartame, acesulfame and sucralose. This really depends on what kind of product one wants to offer. Fitness concerns will be met by simply lowering the caloric intake, but natural sweeteners make for healthier eating.
On top of invert sugar requiring less consumptions than sucrose, insourcing the preparation achieves independence, a personalised recipe and a more efficient production that minimises consumption, waste and frees up space.
CEPI always prioritises versatility and optimisation when designing our solutions, and the invert sugar system is no different. Fully or partially automatic and allowing for both acid and enzymatic hydrolysis, it also ensures shortened heating times and highly efficient mixing, delivering a homogenous blend in a very short time. CEPI’s system optimises steam, reducing waste and costs as well as production times. It standardises and rationalises production all the while improving the quality of the final product.
As health consciousness rises in popularity, the opposite will happen to sucrose. With many available alternatives, we will see a progressive reduction of sucrose use in food products, replaced by options with a lesser caloric impact and fibres that reduce sugar absorption. The move towards natural sweeteners is also meant to continue as they are the favoured choice of those pursuing healthy eating.
What about traditional recipes? There is an overlap between health-conscious customers and those looking for food products with an authenticity claim. In traditional recipes it is harder to replace sugar, as it also counts as mass, but sweeteners can still be used in a mixture with soluble fibres like polydextrose or inuline. These types of materials and dosing solutions are all coming to the forefront of confectionery manufacturing as we look for less caloric and healthier products.
Ms. Terhi Aaltonen, Development Manager, Dairy ingredient at Valio says:
At the moment, a wellness trend is growing world-wide and consumers around the world are more interested in health issues including less-sugar products. Consumers care about what they put in their mouth, even when they indulge. Many companies in the food and confectionery sector have already recognised this trend and are willing to answer the consumers’ needs.. Also sugar taxes have gained traction at a remarkable pace in recent years in many countries and that is having an impact on recipe changes.
Polyols and fibers are not natural additives in chocolate and because of that labeling of these ingredients is not natural. Polyols can cause digestive discomfort if consumed in excess and require a warning label about laxative effects to be placed on product packaging.
In confectionery, consumers are not willing to compromise on taste and mouthfeel of the final product. We feel Valio’s sugar reduced chocolate application offers the similar taste, texture and mouthfeel as standard chocolate without sugar reduction.
We find that it is possible to reduce sugar by replacing it with milk-based protein. Lactose free milk powder is an interesting ingredient to reduce sugar in chocolate as it is sweeter than standard milk powder. What was also important when reducing sugar with milk-based ingredients is that there needs to be a high ash protein level in the ingredient. This ash or salt content improves the solubility of protein in the mouth and because of that the chocolate feels smooth in the mouth.
Image credit: Valio
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Editor, International Confectionery
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