Worldwide, food and beverage companies are under pressure to reduce the sugars in their products.
In the United States, specifically, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 call for consumers to “limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars” to less than 10% of daily calories. Research shows the top sources of added sugars in the US diet include sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts and sweet snacks, sweetened coffee and tea, and candy.
Elsewhere, Canada’s Dietary Guidelines advise consumers to avoid consuming free sugars on a regular basis. Recent guidance from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) also recommends keeping added and free sugars as low as possible, an action that is expecting to spark a rise in the use of alternate sweeteners.
Innova Market Insights’ consumer research shows that sugar reduction messaging is reaching consumers. In our 2020 Health and Nutrition Survey, at least half of consumers surveyed reported cutting back, limiting, or avoiding sugar to prevent conditions such as diabetes or to lose or manage their weight.
Behind the scenes, it’s clear that manufacturers are approaching food and beverage sweetening with increased sophistication. Sugar reduction efforts no longer are limited to straight replacement of sugar. Today, we see focus on three main areas: alternatives, less sweetening, and no sweetness.
Again, Innova Market Insights’ data demonstrate movement toward natural and better-for-you options. The first of our 2022 Top Ten Trends, “Shared Planet,” describes the shift from personal health to planetary concerns as higher percentages of consumers become more ethically and environmentally conscious.
In food and beverages launches of sweeteners, clean label features are particularly important. Organic and natural were the number two and three positionings for new sweeteners during the six months ending September 2021. Respectively, these particular claims appeared on 19% and 16% of new sweetener product launches.
Meanwhile, a move away from synthetic artificial sweeteners--along along with the trend toward sugar-free foods—contributed to an estimated contraction in compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in global sugars and sweeteners launches of -19.1% between 2019 and 2021. Interestingly, Tate & Lyle, a global marketer of both nutritive sweeteners and non-nutritive sweeteners such as allulose, sucralose, stevia, and monk fruit, grew 100% during the 18 months between April 2020 and September 2021. This growth was driven in part by the company’s natural, and additives/preservatives-free ranges of sugar replacements.
Sugar replacement ingredients can be used alone or in blends to replicate the sweetness of sugar. Because sugar confers additional functional properties such as bulk, texture, browning and preservation, sugar reduction often requires additional ingredients or combinations of non-nutritive sweeteners to replicate the full sensory experience of sugar.
Technologies such as fermentation, bioconversion, and enzymatic production have opened the door to large scale replication of sweeteners that occur naturally in only small amounts. Emerging sweeteners, listed here in alphabetical order, are generating excitement for future growth in sugar reduction and replacement.
Allulose is a unique rare sugar that is found in small amounts in foods such as brown sugar, maple syrup, wheat, figs, and raisins. Natural extraction of allulose is not scalable so the sugar is generated commercially through bioconversion from corn. Indexed growth of allulose was over 2,000% in both 2020 and 2021 as compared to the index of 100% in 2017.
Allulose resembles white sugar in its appearance, mouth feel, sweetness profile, and performance in browning and baking. Allulose, which is not metabolized and does not contribute calories, offers the benefit of not being counted toward total or added sugar on the US Nutrition Facts panel.
Brazzein is a naturally sweet protein found in small amounts in the fruit of a West African climbing plant, Oubli. The company Sweegen recently announced that it is scaling up production of brazzein using a proprietary precision fermentation process. Although brazzein has been touted as a potential groundbreaking sweetener for at least 10 years, it has not yet been incorporated into food and beverage product launches, according to our tracking data. Potential benefits of brazzein include intense sweetness with little or no bitter aftertaste, synergies with flavor enhancement technologies, and stability across a wide range of pH levels.
The sugar alcohol erythritol is found naturally in small amounts in certain fruits. It is generated from corn on a larger scale for commercial use through a fermentation process. While erythritol is not a new ingredient, it has gained traction among adherents of keto and low carb diets who are looking for a calorie-free sweetener that replicates the sensory features of sugar without the potential side effects of other sugar alcohols. Erythritol helps replace the bulk of sugar and often is combined with other nonnutritive sweeteners to better replicate the sweetness and mouthfeel of sugar. New product launches with erythritol grew a robust 40.3% (CAGR, global) between 2018 and 2020.
Isomaltulose is a disaccharide of glucose and fructose that provides a full 4 kcal/g. Because isomaltulose does not break down easily, its calories are slowly released over time. This appeals to athletes looking for sustained energy during sports. Beneo, the producer of the branded isomaltulose Palatinose, recently released a study showing that drinking beverages with Palatinose twice daily plus consuming chicory root fiber once a day lower blood glucose post-prandially and stabilized blood glucose over the course of the day. Isomaltulose launches rose 19.3% (CAGR, global) between July 2018 and June 2021 in product launches with a sugar reduction claim.
Monk fruit and monk fruit extract are high intensity sweeteners derived from the dried fruit of Luo Han Guo, a plant native to China. Monk fruit strongly appeals to manufacturers and consumers for its naturalness. Monk fruit extract grew at a compound annual growth rate of 72.5% between 2018 and 2020, and led other widely used sweeteners. Because monk fruit sweeteners do not provide bulk or other sensory features of sugar, they often are combined with other ingredients such as erythritol to better replicate the performance of sugar.
Stevia is among the most established “emerging” sweeteners. In fact, consumers participating in the Innova Category Survey 2020 reported being most familiar with and accepting of stevia as compared to other non-nutritive sweeteners.
Innova Market Insights classifies stevia as an emerging sweetener because of the technology-driven advances that are diversifying the types of commercially available stevia ingredients. In January 2022, Codex Alimentarius adopted specifications for four different steviol glycoside production technologies: stevia leaf extract, bioconversion, fermentation, and glucosylation. This streamlines global approval processes for the various forms of stevia being produced through one of these four technologies and enables manufacturers to scale up production of multiple purified forms of rebaudioside.
Next generation stevia ingredients such as Rebaudioside (Reb) M, D and E impart a cleaner, more sugar-like taste than the original Reb A stevia glycosides.
Stevia appeals to consumers looking for sweetener alternatives in natural and clean food and beverage products. Innova Market Insights data show that new global product launches with stevia averaged annual growth of 15% every year over the past five years and nearly 22% per year during the past 10 years (2011 to 2021), with a majority of product launches in North America, followed by Asia and Western Europe.
The rare sugar, tagatose, holds promise as an alternate sweetener although it has not yet gained widespread use. As of early 2022, Innova Market Insights data show companies launched tabletop tagatose sweeteners in Chile and Belgium. However, availability of tagatose otherwise is extremely limited.
The hypersweet protein, thaumatin, is one of several sweet proteins with potential for use as high intensity sweeteners. Thaumatin is included in small numbers of launches each year, most recently, in a line of plant-based proteins released in the US. Other hypersweet proteins—including monellin, curculin, mabinlin, miraculin, and pentadin—are becoming more widely discussed but are not yet in use.
The rare sugar trehalose occurs naturally in several plants as well as algae, fungi, bacteria, and insects. It is synthesized enzymatically from maltodextrin rather than obtained from natural sources for use in food and beverages. The numerous functional properties of trehalose—including moisture retention, retardation of discoloration, and suppression of the formation of ice crystals—helped drive its strong 47.2% compound annual growth rate between July 2018 and June 2021 in product launches with a sugar reduction claim. To date, trehalose has been used primarily in products produced in China and other Asian countries.
Xylose, a pentose monosaccharide, is naturally abundant in hemicellulose. It is used primarily in savory foods produced in Asia—such as fish cakes, meat and poultry dishes, and sauces in ready meals. Strong growth (21.3% CAGR, global, 2019-2021) appears to be continuing into 2022.
Sweet Combinations, Looking Ahead
Innova Market Insights finds lots of activity around combinations of sweeteners. High intensity sweeteners stevia and monk fruit often are combined for more sugar-like taste and performance, with erythritol replacing the bulk and texture of sugar. The rare sugar, allulose, also can add bulk without carbohydrates, sugars, or calories. Some manufacturers pair stevia with inulin for additional sweetness plus soluble fiber.
Innova Market Insights expects continued innovation in sweeteners including (1) AI-driven development of sweet-tasting designer proteins, (2) blends of naturally derived sweeteners combined with soluble fiber, (3) sweeteners extracted from upcycled ingredients (such as cacao and carob), and (4) expanded sweetening options that are organic, natural, clean, and sustainably produced.
Lu Ann Williams is the Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights, provider of market research services including the Innova Database. With more than 25 years’ experience in the food industry, Lu Ann is a trend expert and frequent public speaker at events worldwide. She leads a team of analysts and works with global clients. Contact her at email@example.com.