Are we tricking ourselves?

There are constant demands on the food and beverage industry to reduce sugar in what we eat. So we listen, and we stop adding sugar, or at lease we reduce it. But are we not tricking ourselves - and the consumers - when we add less sugar and instead replace the sweetness with aspartame and acesulfame K, or replace it entirely with maltitol, or fruit juice?

27 September 2019 •

It’s a warm summer’s day and a friend and I want to buy some­thing cold to drink. My friend choos­es a bot­tle of water and tells me it’s his favourite. No sur­prise, it bare­ly tastes of water. It’s sweet and has a fruits of the for­est kind of taste. Even water is sweet­ened! We live in a soci­ety over­loaded with sugar.

There’s no escape

Not even for the youngest among us.

My sis­ter and I are shop­ping. She needs to buy por­ridge for her baby. The usu­al kind is sold out, but on the shelf in the super­mar­ket is ”pear flavoured por­ridge”. On the pack­ag­ing we see a pic­ture of nice green fruit next to a por­ridge bowl. For many new par­ents with fussy kids, pear por­ridge will of course seem like an easy way to make their kids eat. And if they eat more fruit, it’s great, right? But when we read the table of con­tents anoth­er pic­ture emerges: oats dipped in fruit juice. Another way to sweet­en with­out actu­al­ly adding sugar.

Not even babies are spared in our sug­ar loaded society.

Good intentions turned bad

In the food and bev­er­age indus­try we do what the law­mak­ers, advi­sors and pres­sure groups ask us to do: we reduce the amount of added sug­ar. And the con­sumers are con­tent when they read ”30% less sug­ar” or ”no added sugar”.

But how much do we real­ly gain then the sug­ar is replaced by some­thing that has almost the same affect on the blood sug­ar lev­el, or with almost as many calo­ries as sug­ar? Or when sug­ar is reduced at the cost of arti­fi­cial sweeteners?

Sugar reduc­tion is not some­thing that trendy food and bev­er­age pro­duc­ers can choose to go along with or not. They are not out to make a prod­uct with the right label just for show. Whoever believes that is clear­ly mis­led. We need to under­stand that it is a gen­uine inter­est in health that dri­ves the con­sumer demand in this matter.

The same thing applies when gov­ern­ments, author­i­ties, con­sumer pres­sure groups demand less sug­ar. They don’t do it because they want to take away tasty foods, they do it to reduce the preva­lence of dia­betes and the meta­bol­ic syndrome.

The hidden danger

One day con­sumers will realise that ”no added sug­ar” doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean less calo­ries and low­er GI, and that it might very well mean arti­fi­cial additives.

What hap­pens then?

By replac­ing sug­ar with fruit juices or malti­tol, or syn­thet­ic sweet­en­ers, or the like, pro­duc­ers can claim that their prod­ucts con­tain ”less sug­ar” or ”no added sug­ar”, with­out a lot of time-con­sum­ing prod­uct devel­op­ment and expen­sive ingre­di­ents. But doing so is putting the trust that the con­sumers have in them at risk.

In short: cheap solu­tions don’t come cheap.

The missed opportunity

A com­pa­ny that will instead devel­op recipes where not only sug­ar is reduced, but also all the bad things that sug­ar brings - calo­ries, high GI, tooth decay - has a lot to gain. If you can do it with healthy and nat­ur­al ingre­di­ents you can posi­tion your brand as more nat­ur­al and health­i­er than your com­peti­tors’ brands. This cre­ates a dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion which can both attract buy­ers and moti­vate a pre­mi­um price.

This could also lead to loy­al cus­tomers. A par­ent who brings the pear por­ridge home and realis­es that it doesn’t con­tain what they expect­ed at all, not fruit - as the pic­ture led them to believe but instead fruit juice con­cen­trate - will not buy the prod­uct again. While those who find a brand that actu­al­ly does devel­op nat­ur­al and healthy prod­ucts will become loy­al customers.


Of course, it’s up to each pro­duc­er to posi­tion their brands as they find. But it’s rea­son­able to believe that all seri­ous pro­duc­ers would want to earn the trust of con­sumers and gain their loy­al­ty. Not risk­ing it by tak­ing short-cuts. They should in that case stop lis­ten­ing to what every­body tells them and instead ask them­selves what they can do to attract loy­al con­sumers and gain their trust.

The answer is not less sug­ar. The answer is less calo­ries, low­er GI and noth­ing artificial.

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