This post is sponsored by Kerry.
Many consumers are trying to reduce their sugar intake, but tweaking food and beverage formulations can be a daunting task since taste, texture and appearance hang in the balance. In this interview, Kerry Vice President of Taste Innovation, Sensory & Analytical Sciences Rajesh Potineni and Nutrition Analyst Nathan Pratt discuss how the company works with foodservice clients to reduce sugar in menu items with minimal impact on taste, and how brands should communicate sugar reduction to customers.
Sugar reduction and avoiding artificial sweeteners are both high on the list of consumer concerns about food. What are the challenges of meeting both of these criteria?
Potineni: Over the past few decades, the use of artificial sweeteners across different food and beverage categories has led to a demographic of consumers who prefer a highly intense sweet profile with less body and are adapted to the slight bitterness that the artificial sweeteners may often impart. With recent concerns over the use of these artificial sweeteners, consumers are looking to shift to natural sweetener alternatives but aren’t willing to compromise on the taste of their favorite foods and beverages.
On the other hand, those consumers who prefer real sugar containing products do so because they seek the upfront sugar-like taste profile with syrupy body and mouthfeel. These consumers now seek hybrid solutions that contain reduced sugar combined with a natural sweetener.
Whether you are removing artificial sweeteners or reducing real sugar, this presents many challenges surrounding taste, mouthfeel and viscosity. Kerry is uniquely positioned to cater to the taste profile needs using our expertise in flavor modulation and masking systems. When sugar and artificial sweeteners are replaced or reduced, we work to replace mouthfeel, mask bitterness or off-notes, and perfect the upfront sweetness taste to round out the entire taste experience.
How does Kerry work with foodservice operators to help them reduce sugar with minimal impact on taste?
Potineni: The first step in any sugar reduction is to identify what the target reduction is. This takes into account what sugar content consumers would find acceptable, researching the sugar content of competitor products, what claims may be able to be made about the reduced sugar content (e.g. 25% for a “reduced sugar” claim), and what would be realistic to achieve in that specific product from a taste perspective, among other factors.
One area that Kerry has great expertise in reducing sugar on foodservice menus is within beverage programs. Our team of applications experts works to understand the equipment and dispensing systems as well as the ingredients used in each beverage formulation. We partner with our customers and suppliers to determine how we can help meet goals for sugar reduction in products such as syrups, flavors, mixes and finished beverages.
Under our TasteSense Sweet portfolio, Kerry offers a wide range of flavor technologies specifically focused on masking the bitterness and reducing the metallic off-notes that that natural sweeteners often present.
When choosing an ingredient to replace some of the sugar in foods and beverages, what are the most important aspects to achieving the best taste and texture? Which types of food or beverages are especially simple or difficult when it comes to sugar reduction?
Potineni: Replacing or reducing sugar from foods and beverages can be a challenging task since sugar not only imparts sweetness but impacts texture, color, viscosity, mouthfeel and enhances the flavor depending on the complexity of the product formulation. Foods that have complex textures such as baked goods, cereal bars and ice cream can be challenging for sugar reduction solutions. During product development, Kerry leverages the expertise of Research & Development, Taste Innovation and Sensory & Consumer Product Research teams to understand how the sugar reduction impacts the application’s functionality and sensory profile while maintaining a great tasting product.
How does Kerry take consumer needs into consideration and make sure operators are offering products that match consumer expectations?
Pratt: We take a look at a few different key factors when helping operators meet consumer expectations. Trends and market research are key resources to understand consumer attitudes toward sugar content in different foods and beverages, as well as details about preferred sweeteners. Kerry’s market resources are extensive, which helps us make sure operators understand their consumer as well as they can.
Kerry’s nutrition science team adds additional perspective for operators by helping choose meaningful sugar reduction targets, as well as helping operators communicate sugar reduction in a meaningful way so that consumers can find the healthier choices they are looking for.
Throughout the development process, Sensory & Consumer Product Research has actual product users taste prototypes and provide feedback on improvements. This process helps ensure the final product will be great tasting and will meet or exceed consumer expectations.
After reducing the amount of sugar in a menu item, how should brands communicate the change to consumers and label the change on menus?
Pratt: Foodservice can be a challenging place to communicate changes like sugar reductions as there aren’t mandated labels on foods like in a supermarket, but this channel also has some unique opportunities. The most straightforward way is to communicate via in-store signage, such as using the phrase “reduced sugar” if there is a 25% reduction in sugar than the original version. Websites and social media are also opportunities to reach a larger group of consumers directly. These avenues are great to compare sugar content of the renovated food or beverage to competitor products, or use phrases like “now with only X grams of sugar” to draw attention to the product.
A hesitation with communicating reduced sugar is that consumers often perceive that less sugar will equal less taste, even if the product has been matched to be just as flavorful as the original. This is especially true for indulgent products, like coffee beverages. In these cases, it may be better to be silent about the reduced sugar efforts and simply list the sugar content on menus so consumers can make the decision themselves. The best approach will vary by product, restaurant type, and consumer audience, so the communication of sugar reduction is best decided on a case-by-case basis.
Get more information on Kerry’s sugar reduction capabilities for foodservice here.
Rajesh Potineni is vice president of taste innovation, sensory & analytical sciences at Kerry, where he is responsible for the company's Taste Innovation Discovery, Sensory & Analytical Sciences within North America. Rajesh holds both Ph.D. and Master degrees from Pennsylvania State University in Food Science, with emphasis on flavor chemistry, confectionary processing, dairy science and food emulsions.
Nathan Pratt, PhD, RD, is a nutrition analyst with Kerry’s global nutrition team. He is responsible for managing day-to-day operations and content of the Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute, as well as internal and external scientific communications at Kerry.
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