Welcome to 2018. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to this shiny new year. We closed 2017 with a whole-issue peek into our crystal ball, hopefully helping processors get a jump on the food, beverage, and ingredient trends for the next 365 days and beyond.

A big year is in store, I think. Some game-changing things are about to happen. Sugar labeling is likely imminent, and who knows what other label laws or regulatory changes might land on processors’ heads. I have two words for formulators about these possible regulatory and labeling changes: Don’t Panic! There likely will be no need for hasty—and costly—reformulations.

A well-known “secret” is that the majority of consumers largely ignore the nutrition facts labels. They also tend to ignore pseudo-expert declarations that “sugar is poison, salt is deadly, meat will kill you” and are the source of all our physical ailments. Don’t get me wrong; consumers do read labels—or at least glance at them. They just focus on dramatic numbers and ignore the subtleties. Pretty much any detail in an item that contains less than around 200 calories per serving becomes secondary, and even that takes a back seat to a food or beverage that is wanted “now.” Our “instant gratification” society only got that way because of the ability to be instantly gratified, you know.

So, about that sugar labeling: While experts on one side report a decline in use of sweeteners, but others point to an increase in overall sweetener usage, it’s easy to infer confusion is afoot. Yet the taste for sugar—not just the sensation of sweetness but sugar-sweet—is hardwired into the mammalian brain. People are not going to stop eating sweets. Ever.

One of the more interesting ingredients we reported on last month is the sweetener allulose. Chemically related to fructose, and nearly identical to sucrose in flavor and function, it is what one could coin a “resistant” sugar in that the body does not metabolize it as sugar and it provides virtually no calories. Allulose has come down in cost enough to make it a potential “silver-bullet” sugar replacer. Yet it has to be listed on a label as an added sugar, which has some manufacturers worried. Again, Don’t panic! If your product allows consumers to enjoy a favorite sweet indulgence, and the total calories on the label are competitively low, plus the label is “clean,” then everyone wins. 

This is just one example, but it does put some of the seemingly big scary changes into perspective. So, toast the new year and be of good cheer. Big opportunities are ahead.