On-trend Sugar replacers
Consumers are reducing sugar in their diet, and value-added sweeteners stand to appeal to more than just a sweet tooth.
The national campaign to reduce obesity isn’t falling on deaf ears. Tough the economy still dogs consumers, many are willing to spend extra on foods and ingredients that will help them battle the bulge. And as the market for reduced-calorie and sugarfree offerings grows, so do bakers’ options.
According to the Calorie Control Council, an international organization representing the low-calorie and reduced-fat food and beverage industry, the top trends in weight loss in 2011 reveal consumers’ adoption of minor lifestyle changes to improve health. Changes such as increased consumption of products labeled as light–many of which containing sugar replacers–and adopting the recently updated dietary guidelines–which suggest reducing added sugars in the diet–are simple behavioral changes that could have a big impact on obesity.
This behavioral shift, coupled with a growing national commitment to the prevention and control of diabetes, is expanding the market for sugar-free and reduced-sugar foods.
Baked products formulated to provide the texture, flavor and, most significantly, the indulgence factor, while mimicking or improving on conventional fare, will win market share as consumers continue to seek out foods that will help keep them on the dietary straight and narrow.
But beyond looking for “free from” products that claim to be devoid of an ingredient with a negative reputation, consumers also are demanding desserts that provide additional healthful properties or social benefits.
The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Inc. (NASFT), sponsors of the San Francisco Fancy Food show in January, highlighted “desserts with benefits” as a major specialty food trend for 2011. This brings sugar replacers and alternative sweeteners with additional functional benefits or on-trend features to the forefront.
THE RISE OF STEVIA
Stevia is a sweetener that stands to make waves in the baking industry, though ingredient companies may have only scratched the surface of its potential. Stevia-based brands still prompt confusion about exactly where they stand with the FDA. The South American herb Stevia rebaudiana itself, commonly known as the stevia plant, has not yet made the FDA’s GRAS ingredients list. But a plant derivative called rebaudioside A (Reb A), or rebiana, has been granted GRAS status, and ingredient companies are already applying it. From Reb A, Cargill and Coca-Cola developed the sweetener brand Truvia, while PepsiCo and the Whole Earth Sweetener Co. developed PureVia.
Stevia has gained traction of late. A consumer survey released last year by the NPD Group revealed that 35 percent of consumers said they either already ate or would consider eating or drinking products containing stevia.
Observing that stevia is poised to become “the holy grail of sweeteners,” Mintel reported that since December 2008, stevia sales (which include stevia, Truvia and PureVia) have exploded. In the first eight months of 2009 alone, Mintel found that more than 100 stevia-containing products had been released in the United States.
By mid-July of that same year, sales topped $95 million, a substantial increase over the $21 million achieved in all of 2008. The report predicts the stevia market could exceed $2 billion by the end of 2011.
But, says Ann Clark Tucker, director of marketing and communications for Truvia, Cargill is “not sure we are ready for prime time” for the commercial bakery industry, although the company is “working on bigger applications in baking for the future.” In its report on consumer packaged goods trends for 2011, Mintel predicts “we should expect to see sugar and stevia used in conjunction to achieve an overall lower sugar content in new products. However, ‘stevia’ will not always be part of the overt communication. Instead we’ll see messaging like ‘naturally sweetened’ or ‘reduced sugar.’”
But according to Jim May, founder of SweetLeaf Sweetener®, both his stevia extract, which is 300 times sweeter than sugar, and his tabletop sweetener, which is 30 times sweeter than sugar, can be used in most baking applications.
At the foodservice level, chefs at Skyline Country Club in Tucson, Ariz., have used SweetLeaf in baked products for years. Jesse Torpe, general manager, hasn’t had a problem baking with stevia. “Some people have even said chocolate desserts made with SweetLeaf actually have a more intense chocolate flavor with no aftertaste or lingering sweetness,” he says.
And stevia-based sweeteners have the potential to deliver functional properties as well. The tabletop version of SweetLeaf uses inulin, a soluble fiber and prebiotic as a bulking agent. “About 70 percent of our immune function,” May says, “comes from our good intestinal bacteria.” Inulin is a primary food supply for these bacteria. Inulin has been found to increase calcium absorption and may increase magnesium absorption. It has little impact on blood sugar levels and does not increase triglyceride levels.
Whether it’s overtly advertised or used as a sugar reducing agent, stevia has the ability to significantly alter the baking landscape.
SWEETENERS GO GREEN
Xivia, newly branded from Danisco, is a sustainable (made from wood pulp) source of xylitol, a sugar alcohol sweetener used as a naturally occurring sugar substitute. According to Cathy Dorko, BioActives NAFTA, industry manager: bakery and fats and oils, Danisco USA Inc., New Century, Kansas, less energy is required to produce Xivia than other xylitol brands, resulting in a ‘greener’ product. In contrast to the Biomass Hydrolysis Process (BHP) used to make most other brands of xylitol, the Danisco Wood Based (DWB) integration process is 85 percent less impactful on the environment than BHP. The DWB manufacturing process eliminates the need for the use of acid hydrolysis, which uses sulfuric acid. Additionally, after xylose is processed from the pulp, the remaining side stream returns to the pulp plant for energy production.
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