Bulking and binding without the sugar

by Allison Gibeson
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Reducing the amount of sugar in children’s cereals and snack products is a tricky process, especially when trying to replace the sweetness and functionality sugar provides.

“The drive is on to try to help cut sugars out in some places where they can be to make it a little bit less mainstream in everything (children) grab,” said Linda Wilson, business development manager for bars at Glanbia Nutritionals, Monroe, Wis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, added sugars in processed and prepared foods represents about 16% of children’s total caloric intake. But discretionary calories should only represent between 5% and 15% of total daily caloric intake, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.

As a result, Kelly Belknap, application scientist with Grain Processing Corp., Muscatine, Iowa, said customers are under pressure to meet certain requirements, like those set out by the National School Lunch Program. These customers want help with sugar reduction, and many are working with school nutrition programs.

Technical challenges and solutions

Ms. Wilson said the functional reason cereals and bars are typically high in sugar is because the sugar acts as a binding agent and helps the product hold together during its shelf life.

“It’s very hard to get good binding capabilities once you start taking sugars out,” Ms. Wilson said. “There are some other means that can be used, but they just don’t hold together as well as your typical syrup-type systems do.”

Glanbia, which was challenged by one of the big three cereal manufacturers to develop a solution for binding, created OptiSol 2000. In many applications, OptiSol 2000 may help reduce sugar 25% without having to add anything to replace the sweetness, Ms. Wilson said.

The technology duplicates the binding functionality of a normal syrup system. A number of cereals and granola bars featuring the OptiSol 2000 binding technology are set to be introduced later this year, she said.Glanbia would like to expand its efforts to help reduce sugar in fruit snacks and confections, and the company is beginning to work on such projects.

Wade Schmelzer, principal food scientist of health and nutrition at Cargill, Minneapolis, said several technical challenges with sugar reduction in cereal include the fact sugar contributes to appearance with the frosted look. Sugar also contributes to moisture migration for the milk and helps keep cereal crisp longer, and achieving a good sweet impact with less sugar is difficult. He said whitening agents may be used to help with the frosted appearance.

Mr. Schmelzer and Jane Friedrich, principal scientist with snacks and cereals at Cargill, emphasized the need to add bulk back into snacks and cereals once the sugar has been removed. Inulin is one ingredient that may be used, but it also provides additional fiber, and, depending on the needs of the consumer, not every manufacturer wants the added fiber.

When looking to reduce sugar in formulations, Mr. Schmelzer said manufacturers must consider their ultimate goal.

“Is their ultimate goal to stay as sweet as they currently are, or are they progressively going to make some small step-wise changes in reducing sweetness? Because that’s going to impact the tools they are going to have to think about using,” Mr. Schmelzer said.

Stevia expanding to foods

Ms. Belknap said most companies are looking to high-intensity sweeteners to help with sugar reduction, and GPC produces maltodextrin products to help replace the solids that are lost during sugar reduction.

After initially being used in beverages, companies are starting to look to stevia as the high-intensity sweetener of choice. Ms. Friedrich said cereal products with stevia are beginning to emerge, with more set to be introduced.

Meanwhile, Mr. Schmelzer said Cargill has done studies with mothers on acceptance of stevia in children’s products and received positive feedback.

“The growth of stevia in the marketplace has been extremely good in the last few years, and every indication is that trajectory is going to continue,” Mr. Schmelzer said. “So there is an acceptance level. The next wave of this is acceptance for the entire household.”

He said when stevia is used to provide sweetness, they start looking for ways to help boost or round out the sweetness to get the right impact. There is a balance between enhancing sweetness and masking other flavors.

“It’s a very holistic approach … it’s not just a matter of taking out sugar and replacing it with stevia … it’s around how do I recreate the experience for consumers with the tools I have in the toolbox beyond just sweetness,” Mr. Schmelzer said.

More stevia ingredient products are coming onto the market to make working with the natural sweetener easier. Recently Pyure Brands L.L.C. introduced PyureBlend SOA, a stevia and agave inulin blend.
“The ultimate goal is to provide the end user with something that is very close to sugar and to take the guess work out of it because there is a lot of tweaking you need to do when working with just stevia extract,” said Philip Coggins, national sales manager for Pyure Brands.

While the product initially is being used in beverages, Mr. Coggins said he sees potential for use in foods, and they’ve had trials in cookie and bar applications.

What’s happening in the market?

Mr. Schmelzer cited a slow decline in the amount of sugar in cereals during the past five years, but it’s not something companies are highlighting to consumers. Ms. Friedrich said this is in part due to the fact companies may not be reducing sugar enough to make a claim, but they are making efforts to reduce sugar where they can.

“In the snacks and cereal space as well as some other categories, they are all trying to figure out what the best way is to position these kind of reduced cereal and snack products,” Mr. Schmelzer said. “How do I position these in the market? There is a little bit more involved marketing angle that takes a little bit longer to get those types of products to market.”

Datamonitor, Canandaigua, N.Y., found about 48% of U.S. consumers said low sugar or no added sugar claims had a high or very high influence on them when choosing a food or beverage product. However, this is below the global 20-country average of 54%. Datamonitor found sweet spreads, chewing gum, breakfast cereals and cereal bars, and sugar confectionery were the top food categories for low or no sugar claims. Hot cereals also have seen some noticeable activity in sugar reduction. Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director with Datamonitor, said many categories trying to reduce sugar are categories where sugar may have a negative connotation.

“I do think there will be some new products that will come out in the future, but I think the big challenge is how we get those million-dollar selling products to taste exactly like what the consumer is used to,” Ms. Wilson said. “The consumer wants it, but I don’t think they want to compromise what they are used to either.”

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, there were 416 beverage and 518 food products with low, no or reduced sugar claims in 2011, which compared with 323 beverage and 675 food products in 2010. So far in 2012, there have been 179 beverage and 321 food products launched with such claims.

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