Dairy product developers have a number of new tools to reduce the incidence of added sugars.

As the food industry awaits the release of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, many dairy foods manufacturers are actively reformulating products to complement the expected advice on reducing sugar intake. The eighth edition of recommendations, like its predecessors, will identify foods and beverages that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, promote health and prevent disease.

It is expected the new guidelines will emphasize daily intake of added sugars to not exceed 10% of total calories. This was a recommendation from the report issued earlier this year by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (D.G.A.C.), which referenced studies suggesting that when sugars are added to foods and beverages to sweeten them, they add calories without providing additional nutrients. The D.G.A.C. believes it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie requirements if one exceeds 10% of total calories from added sugars.

Supporting the recommendations is a proposed change to the Nutrition Facts to include per cent Daily Value (D.V.) for added sugars, which would be similar to information consumers have long seen for other nutrients. The per cent D.V. quantifies a nutrient in a serving of food and is designed to assist consumers with making informed choices. The D.V. for added sugars would be based on daily intake recommendations.

Understanding added sugar

Sugar content declarations long have been a sore spot for dairy foods marketers because of milk’s inherent lactose content, as a single 8-oz glass of 2% reduced-fat white milk inherently contains 11 grams of sugar. The “added sugars” line on the Nutrition Facts, if properly explained to consumers, will allow them to differentiate between inherent sugar and added sugar. But some fear consumers will be confused and think the added sugar value is in addition to total sugars, rather than a part of total sugars.

The Dannon Co. has focused on reducing added sugars with Oikos Triple Zero Greek Yogurt.

“The potential future labelling of added sugars should have an educational component in order to bring awareness to consumers on the right amount of sugars in a serving size,” said Ivan Gonzales, marketing director-dairy for Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill. “Such labelling will also likely have an impact on sweetened dairy products and how they are perceived by consumers.”

Afrouz Naeini, senior marketing manager-sweeteners at Ingredion, added, “An added sugars declaration will encourage consumers to pay closer attention to the amount of and the sources of sweeteners in their products. They will start to form opinions and preferences toward some more than others. We are already seeing a trend towards simple sweeteners and towards non-artificial low- or no-calorie sweeteners.”

Flavored milks, dairy-based beverages, frozen desserts, puddings and yogurts are the most common dairy products to be sweetened. Flavored milks and yogurts are often scrutinized for added sugar content, with critics suggesting that the added sugar makes the products comparable to candy, with the empty calories repositioning them from super food to junk food.

“While the added sugars declaration would invite consumers to be more conscious about the foods they choose to eat, it would also more clearly distinguish the nutritious foods from the indulgences,” said Robert Graeter, chief of quality assurance, Graeter’s Inc., Cincinnati. “Brands that are concerned with promoting their product as ‘healthy’ may need to reconsider their approach and learn how to replace the sweetness of sugar without sacrificing quality.”

Indeed, many dairy products have a healthy halo because they are recognized as sources of better-for-you nutrients and ingredients, including calcium, fiber, probiotics and protein, Mr. Gonzales said.

“However, it is also true that some dairy products have significant added sugars, and including the D.V. will bring attention to this matter,” he said. “This is why many dairy foods manufacturers are working towards reformulations to reduce the amount of added sugars in their products.”

Available in varying fat levels and flavors, Dean Foods' TruMoo brand relies on sugar and natural flavors to offer products with about 35% less sugar than standard flavored milks.

Since its introduction in 2012, Dallas-based Dean Foods’ TruMoo flavored milk brand has always been about lowering added sugars. Available in varying fat levels and flavors, the brand relies on sugar and natural flavors to offer products with about 35% less sugar than standard flavored milks. The 1% low-fat chocolate milk measures in at 18 grams total sugar per 8-oz serving.

True Dairy Flavors, Hudson, Ohio, produces a line of flavored milks under the True Dairy brand. Available in six child-friendly flavors, including banana cream, black cherry, blue moon, cotton candy, grape and orange Dreamsicle — each 8-oz serving contains 22 grams of sugar, of which only 10 are added sugars. The other 12 grams are lactose.

To assist women with keeping their New Year’s weight loss resolutions, New York-based Skinnygirl recently introduced dairy-based Skinnygirl Protein Tasty Nutrition Shakes. Available in two dessert-inspired flavors, including chocolate brownie and vanilla bean sundae, each single-serve, shelf-stable 11.5-oz plastic bottle contains 80 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 12 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and zero grams of sugar, with the latter possible by using delactosed dairy ingredients. The shakes are naturally sweetened with stevia and monk fruit extract.

Yogurt manufacturers also are focusing on sugar reduction in order to improve the nutritional profile of their products. In June, General Mills, Minneapolis, began phasing in its Yoplait Original yogurt line now with 25% less sugar. All 25 varieties have been reformulated, the result of more than 70 employees working for three years on a variety of product improvements, according to the company. In order to reduce the sugar, the team included additional milk and changed the natural flavorings.

“Our consumers are our top priority, and when they voiced concerns over the amount of sugar in our products we were determined to find a solution,” said Susan Pitt, marketing manager for Yoplait. “We understand that making good nutritional choices isn’t always easy. With less sugar, fewer calories and more protein per cup, we have no doubt that our renovated line of Yoplait Original yogurts will make it easier than ever for our consumers to feel good about their daily yogurt choice.”

The Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y., also has focused on reducing added sugars with Oikos Triple Zero Greek Yogurt. The “triple zero” refers to the fact that the yogurt has zero added sugar, zero artificial sweeteners and zero fat. To sweeten the yogurt the product relies on a variety of technologies, including stevia; chicory root fiber, which contributes sweetness while also delivering 6 grams of fiber per serving; and the lactase enzyme.

Baltimore, Md.-based B’more Organic produces Skyr Smoothies, a line of drinkable no-sugar-added strained nonfat yogurts. The cultured beverages come in 16-oz plastic bottles, with an 8-oz serving containing up to 14 grams of sugar from inherent lactose. Stevia keeps calories and sugar content low.

Skinnygitl shakes are naturally sweetened with stevia and monk fruit extract.

Earlier this year, Stonyfield Farm Inc., Londonderry, N.H., introduced OP Organic Protein Smoothie. To keep sugar content at 15 to 19 grams per 10-oz single-serve bottle, the smoothies are sweetened with erythritol, cane sugar, inulin and stevia.

In the frozen dessert category, Graeter’s Low Glycemic Ice Cream contains 50% less sugar than Graeter’s traditional ice cream products. The sugar reduction is achieved through the use of soluble corn fiber, fructose and monk fruit extract.

“This is not a ‘diet’ ice cream,” Mr. Greater said. “It’s rich, creamy and indulgent and designed for people with type 2 diabetes or those on sugar management diets, giving them an ice cream option they can enjoy without spiking their blood sugar levels.”

Iskream Inc., Stratford, Conn., markets culinary-inspired, better-for-you frozen desserts that contain no added sugar. The desserts are sweetened with a blend of erythritol, inulin and stevia. The 3.5-oz milk chocolate-dipped bars, which come in banana and vanilla bean flavors, contain 4 grams of sugar from lactose. There are seven varieties, which vary in inherent lactose content, with 4- to 5-grams per half-cup serving.

Sweetener options abound

There are numerous approaches to reducing the sugar content of dairy foods. This includes blending nutritive with non-nutritive sweeteners, along with culture, enzyme and flavor technologies.

Overly sweet yogurt is a U.S. phenomenon with origins to when it first went mainstream in the 1950s. That’s when Dannon introduced a strawberry fruit preserves on the bottom variety, which was designed to mask the acidity of the fermented milk, a taste unfamiliar to most Americans.

“Nowadays, yogurt manufacturers can choose cultures that are mild in flavor and acidity and do not require as much added sweetener to make it acceptable to American palates,” said Mirjana Curic-Bawden, principal scientist and application manager of fermented milk and probiotics, cultures and enzymes, Chr. Hansen Inc, Milwaukee.

Graeter's Low Glycemic Ice Cream contains 50% less sugar than Graeter's traditional ice cream products. The sugar reduction is achieved though the use of soluble corn fiber, fructose and monk fruit extract.

“It is a popular myth that yogurt has very low lactose because it is fermented,” Ms. Curic-Bawden said. “This is just not true. Milk contains, on average, 5% lactose, and if supplemented with skim milk powder or condensed milk, it can get as high as 6.5%. During fermentation with yogurt cultures, only a fraction (1% to 1.5%) of the lactose is fermented.

“We do not perceive lactose as sweet, but its components — glucose and galactose — have more sweetness,” Ms. Curic-Bawden said. “When you select mild yogurt cultures and add lactase enzyme to the milk, these ingredients release milk’s ‘inner sweetness’ and allow for a reduction of added sweetener. Selecting yogurt cultures with very low shelf life post-acidification allow for additional optimization of sweeteners.”

Sensus America Inc., Lawrenceville, N.J., manufactures chicory root fiber ingredients, also known as inulin.

“Some of these products are as high as 65% the sweetness of sugar, yet still contain at least 75% dietary fiber,” said Scott Turowski, technical sales manager. “Chicory root fiber is synergistic with high-intensity sweeteners and has masking properties to help provide a clean sweetness.”

Without a doubt, stevia, in combination with other ingredient technologies, is making it easier to reduce the amount of added sugars in various dairy foods.

“Consumers are very accepting of alternative sweeteners as long as the end products deliver traditional taste and mouthfeel,” said Wade Schmelzer, principal scientist, Cargill, Minneapolis. “Stevia-based sweeteners will be at the forefront of new product development because they can achieve sugar reduction of 50% or more, even in challenging applications.”

John Martin, global director of technical development and innovation, PureCircle Ltd., Oak Brook, Ill., added, “With stevia’s sweetness intensity combined with an excellent taste profile and processing stability, stevia glycosides are an ideal option for sugar reduction in dairy products. It compliments growing trends in the marketplace, including higher demand for naturally labelled products and a desire to move away from artificial sweeteners.”

Ingredion offers a range of ingredients to support varied sugar reductions, all the way down to no-sugar-added formulations.

“In addition to stevia, we offer a broad range of polyols to replace sugar by providing a good level of sweetness as well as the right amount of solids for a good final texture,” Mr. Gonzales said.

“Use of erythritol, a type of polyol, will continue to expand in dairy processing because of its high heat and acid stability,” Mr. Schmelzer said. “Officially the only zero-calorie bulk sweetener, erythritol makes it easier for dairy manufacturers to create better-for-you products that still taste authentically indulgent.”

The future of dairy innovation is in reducing added sugars.

“Consumer perception and reaction to the (possible) new sugar declaration on the Nutrition Facts will foster innovative product development throughout the dairy industry,” Mr. Schmelzer said.