Consumers have been in a sweet-bitter battle with sugar for ages. Balancing the consumers' sweet tooth against their health driven flight and fright from sugar is a dilemma that is getting food producing companies racing for a sweet solution. The delicate balance between health and taste will determine the shape and taste of things to come across the entire spectrum of the food and beverage industry.
Sugar has been blamed for many health problems, notably obesity, diabetes and heart disease from high cholesterol. Researchers have found a link between sugar and unhealthy levels of blood fats and bad cholesterol.
Governments and food producing companies are constantly in fierce debates on limiting the excessive consumption of sugar, contained in many food products and beverages. The USA Food & Drugs Administration last year introduced stricter labels on food products. Some states in US have placed an outright ban on the sale of sodas in high schools, in the attempt to curb youth obesity. The Government of Canada last year also applied stricter labelling rules in food products’ packaging to alert consumers of the sugar component and the percentage Daily Value (DV). According to Health Canada, “the % DV for sugars will help Canadians make food choices that are consistent with the World Health Organization's recommendations and will allow consumers to choose healthier food options.”
Where is the greatest amount of sugar coming from in all the foods we eat and enjoy every day? Your Coca-Cola can of 330 ml Coke contains 35g of sugar, which amounts to about 7 teaspoons of sugar. A bar of Mars chocolate contains 32.1 grams of sugar or 6.5 teaspoons, Nestle KitKat carries 23.8g, while Twin is loaded with 10 teaspoons of sugar.
There are other less obvious food products that are high on sugar and could fool consumers. Chocolate milk for example has 26% Daily Value of sugar; flavored yogurt, 31%; canned fruit in light syrup; and 21% and 25% for fruit juice. The daily recommended maximum Daily Value is 15%.
Reducing these levels of sugar will have long term benefits. It will be good for business too. If the companies can lower the sugar content in foods and drinks and still manage to retain the great taste, it will indeed be a win-win position.
Nestlé, the world’s largest food company has revealed plans to reduce the quantity of sugar in its chocolate products by as much as 40%, through a process that structures the sugar differently, using only natural ingredients. Through this discovery, Nestlé hopes to drastically reduce the total sugar in KitKat and its other chocolate products.
Kirsteen Rodgers, Senior External Communications Manager, Nestlé Research, confirmed that the patent will be published this year. "We expect to provide more details about the first roll-out of our reduced sugar confectionery later this year. The first products should be available in 2018."
The battle against sugar- Coca-Cola and other corporations join the race
Coca-Cola, which seems to be one of the most visible symbols of this growing sugar discomfort and debate, is mindful of changing consumer taste and society demands. Katherine Schermerhorn, Director of Strategic Communications at Coca-Cola North America, outlined their sugar strategy in an exclusive interview. "Globally, we are reducing sugar in more than 200 of our sparkling drinks to help consumers drink less sugar when they buy our products. In addition, we must continue to make low and no-sugar versions of the drinks people love more readily visible and available in more places.”
She continues to say, "Since 2014, we have launched nearly 500 new low or no-sugar thirst-quenchers globally. Coca-Cola Life, launched in 2014, is the Company’s first reduced calorie and sugar cola to use a blend of cane sugar and stevia leaf extract. We are also shifting some of our marketing dollars to make people more aware of these low and no-sugar options in their local markets. We have to continue listening to the people who love our brands and beverages. We have been on this journey for a while, but we will continue to accelerate to meet the changing desires and tastes of our consumers for the future."
Several other multinational corporations have joined this battle and are also applying scientific means to get the sweet balance.
Chairman and Co-Founder of Icelandic Provisions, Einar Sigurðsson, is predicting that "the resurrection of foods from our past through technology will be important in the coming years. In our case, we were able to genetically isolate a dairy culture that hundreds of years of Icelanders have used to make skyr and use it to make a truly unique product for the marketplace that answers a new demand from consumers in terms of food quality and ingredients. Consumers are looking for the simple, real foods that our ancestors survived on and specifically foods that don’t require additives or sweeteners.”
Peter Messmer. CEO of Mystery Chocolate Box, believes that more and more chocolate makers will be increasingly moving away from traditionally added sugar in favour of other more natural sources of sweetness such as honey, coconut sugar and stevia. “In the next 20 years, increased pressure from the public to reduce sugar content could see chocolate bars made with traditional sugar being relegated to the gourmet/craft segment.”
Josh Young, a food scientist and partner at TasteWell, a Cincinnati- based company that makes all-natural flavor ingredients, is adopting a similar strategy, in preparation for the future. He said, “replacing sugar has been difficult because there has always been a negative taste profile, or bad after-taste, associated with all-natural and artificial sweeteners. That is the challenge. Taste-modifying technologies, such as using natural plant extracts, can help to positively alter the flavor of foods without sugar. The cucumber extract that TasteWell uses, combines with a novel ingredient technology to remove bad flavors by blocking their natural bitterness, allowing the more appealing flavors to come through. This is the future.”
Dr. Eugene Gamble, a world renowned dentist is not so optimistic. “Although a reduction in the amount of sugars used in soft drinks and foods is to be encouraged, the effects on caries or tooth decay may be relatively limited. There has been a dramatic increase in attention to the role sugar plays in our health. That trend is likely to continue as more research proves that over-consumption of refined carbohydrates is detrimental in ways that we did not previously understand.”
Dr. Gamble also states that “Sugar is in many respects the new tobacco and nowhere is this more dramatically highlighted than with the increase in diabetes worldwide. Of course we can only speculate what the impact of sugar reduction will have on a population over time.”
World Atlas ranks the United States as the number one sugar loving nation in the world. The average person consumes more than 126 grams of sugar per day.
In Germany, the second biggest sweet tooth nation, people eat roughly 103 grams of sugar on average. The Netherlands is ranked No. 3 and the average consumption is 102.5 grams. Canada is number 10 on the list, where residents eat or drink 89.1 grams of sugar daily.