Sugar reduction by stealth – part 2

We have previously written that food producers should reduce sugar by stealth. We are now investigating how this can be done and why it’s time to put the original product at the centre of sugar reduction.

23 October 2020 •

In the arti­cle Stop brag­ging – reduce sug­ar by stealth! we inves­ti­gat­ed how sug­ar reduc­tion can seri­ous­ly have a break­through with the large mass of con­sumers. Food pro­duc­ers should stop brag­ging that they are reduc­ing unhealthy ingre­di­ents but still reduc­ing. By stealth. In this arti­cle, we focus on how it can be done, but we also draw par­al­lels to what we have writ­ten in oth­er arti­cles. However, let’s start off with a dilemma.

A dilemma

A dilem­ma that many food pro­duc­ers face is an aver­sion to jeop­ar­dize the orig­i­nal prod­uct. What do we mean by that? Well, a com­mon sce­nario is that you have an orig­i­nal prod­uct that has been around for a long time, maybe sev­er­al decades, and that sells well. From time to time you try an alter­na­tive ver­sion, per­haps with oth­er flavours and oth­er ingre­di­ents, often some form of ‘light’ version.

And it’s fine to put these alter­na­tive prod­ucts at stake. But you rarely take any risks with the orig­i­nal prod­uct. And why would you? The orig­i­nal prod­uct often accounts for the major­i­ty of sales, it sells well and is in demand by con­sumers. Why risk it?

Let’s return to the answer to that ques­tion short­ly. First, we have to repeat the top­ic of reduc­ing by stealth and take a clos­er look at why food pro­duc­ers should reduce sug­ar now.

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Sugar reduction by stealth

In the pre­vi­ous arti­cle Stop brag­ging – sug­ar reduce the sly! we learned that an effec­tive way to reduce unhealthy ingre­di­ents is to reduce by stealth. In this way, we can seri­ous­ly reach out with sug­ar-reduced prod­ucts on a broad front.

Three insights

In the arti­cle The time for sug­ar reduc­tion is now we come to three insights that gov­ern why sug­ar reduc­tion should be prioritized:

  • Pressure from leg­is­la­tion and com­peti­tors (e.g sug­ar tax) cre­ates incen­tives for food pro­duc­ers to put sug­ar reduc­tion high on the agenda.
  • Consumers love sweet­ness but want to get rid of the neg­a­tive aspects of sug­ar. They are also becom­ing more health-con­scious and increas­ing­ly inter­est­ed in ingre­di­ents of nat­ur­al origin.
  • The solu­tion for food pro­duc­ers is to invest in the devel­op­ment and inno­va­tion of new solu­tions with nat­ur­al ori­gins but which also offer sweet­ness, taste and mouthfeel.

A summary

Let’s stop and pon­der what we’ve been through.

The argu­ments above (the three insights) show why sug­ar reduc­tion should be a pri­or­i­ty. We know that an appro­pri­ate strat­e­gy to get more peo­ple to con­sume health­i­er prod­ucts is to reduce by stealth. But for sug­ar reduc­tion to have an effect on a broad front and be cred­i­ble, it should take place in orig­i­nal prod­ucts and not just in light alter­na­tives. The three insights show that sug­ar reduc­tion is desir­able, but also that there are solu­tions with­in reach that enable high-qual­i­ty sug­ar-reduced prod­ucts – as long as you are open to devel­op­ment and innovation.

In the light of these insights, it is per­haps no longer a scary thought to start secret­ly reduc­ing the orig­i­nal product?

Let’s see how this can be done.


havssalt på en blå duk

In the pre­vi­ous arti­cle Stop brag­ging – reduce sug­ar by stealth! we cit­ed Heinz as an exam­ple. Since the mid-1980s, they have been active­ly work­ing to reduce sug­ar and salt in their prod­ucts; for exam­ple, their clas­sic toma­to ketchup has under­gone a 40 per cent reduc­tion in salt.

But this reduc­tion has been done step by step. The chal­lenge is that con­sumers must not notice the reduc­tion. If the reduc­tion is too vast and occurs infre­quent­ly, there is a risk that con­sumers’ taste buds will not keep up with the changes. Care and con­ti­nu­ity are the watchwords.

But at the same time, you must not reduce too lit­tle. Opinion lead­ers, inter­est groups, dieti­tians and oth­ers may begin to won­der why you only make changes to the mar­gin. That’s not good either.

Further development

But how much salt can Heinz real­ly reduce with­out sac­ri­fic­ing taste and mouthfeel?

It can be said that Heinz has come to a cross­road. Ambitious inter­nal require­ments and goals have led to a deci­sion to reduce fur­ther. But in order to not sac­ri­fice taste and mouth­feel, Heinz needs to find some­thing that can replace the salt.

That is why Heinz works active­ly with inno­va­tion, such as fer­men­ta­tion, to find solu­tions that offer the same taste and mouth­feel. The goal, accord­ing to Heinz, will nev­er be to find a solu­tion that replaces salt one hun­dred per cent. It’s still about reduction.

You can read more about Heinz in this arti­cle in Food Navigator.

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A crossroad

When it comes to reduc­ing sug­ar, there is the same prob­lem – or oppor­tu­ni­ty if you will.

In the end, food pro­duc­ers will inevitably come to a cross­road. Either they can stop reduc­ing and thus being forced to stay at a cer­tain lev­el, to not jeop­ar­dize the taste expe­ri­ence. Or they can con­tin­ue to reduce by adding some­thing else that can replace the lost sug­ar, salt or what­ev­er it may be.

The big ques­tion is what this ‘some­thing else’ could be?

To replace sugar

Replacing sug­ar means to replace sev­er­al things. Sugar not only pro­vides sweet­ness, but it also gives the right taste and mouth­feel; It has bulk­ing prop­er­ties and adds vol­ume to food.

Therefore, this ‘some­thing else’ must offer all this; it must give the right taste, flavour, tex­ture and bulk. But at the same time, it must also pro­vide few­er calo­ries and have a low­er impact on blood sug­ar lev­els than reg­u­lar sugar.

But even that is not enough.

Consumer preferences

As con­sumers turn to the nat­ur­al and free-from, the ingre­di­ents in mod­ern sug­ar reduc­tion must also be flaw­less. There are many exam­ples of arti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers that have seen scan­dals and been met with sus­pi­cion from the pub­lic. Whether there is truth behind the rumours or not, the dam­age has already been done; a rep­u­ta­tion is easy to get but hard to get rid of.

To reduce and replace sug­ar, you need some­thing that pro­vides both sweet­ness and taste, bulk and vol­ume, but which also has a nat­ur­al ori­gin, has few­er calo­ries and less effect on blood sug­ar lev­els as ordi­nary sugar.

Sweetened fibres

We call our solu­tion sweet­ened fibres. It is a com­bi­na­tion of sug­ar alco­hols, ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides and dietary fibres. Together, these ingre­di­ents can replace sug­ar 1: 1. Sweetened fibres come in dif­fer­ent vari­eties for dif­fer­ent types of foods.

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