Have your cake and be healthy, too? As consumers become increasingly aware that consuming excess added sugars can lead to weight gain and a whole host of ills, they’re seeking out lower-sugar, natural products that help them enjoy the occasional treat with guilt or worry. “Sugar reduction is now affecting the food industry more than any other issue,” says Kyle Krause, Product Manager, Functional Fiber and Carbohydrates, North America, at Beneo. “Regulatory requirements and demanding consumers are forcing food manufacturers in one clear direction: the sugar content of food and drink must be reduced, but without any impact on taste or sensory properties. Even better, the end product should also have an additional health benefit.”
That’s true across demos and diets. Dave Rosenberg, Food Category Manager at NOW Foods, explains, “The saying ‘you are what you eat’ has never been more true than today, as consumers use diet to define identity in an unprecedented way. Whatever food tribe a consumer belongs to, whether it is clean eating, Paleo, fasting or Keto, what they all share is a desire for authenticity and an avoidance of synthetic, over-processed and empty-calorie ingredients—in short, better food.”
In addition to what a sweetener is, consumers care about what it isn’t—genetically modified, for example. Suzanne’s Specialties offers vegan, non-GMO, and gluten-free sweeteners. With a full line of natural sweeteners that retain plant identity and micronutrients, Suzanne’s offers organic brown rice syrup, organic wildflower honey, organic agave syrup, and organic clarified rice syrup.
The team at Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, which is headquartered in Lakewood, CO, has seen the trend toward natural sweeteners grow, and offers a wide range of options (such as coconut and date sugars, syrups such as maple, yacon, barley malt, and brown rice; honey, molasses, stevia, and sugar alcohols such as erythritol and xylitol) to meet the need. Christi Louderback, Nutritional Health Coach Regional Manager with Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, says, “The variety of natural sweeteners has come a long way in the past few years, as customers look for sweeteners that are safe, healthy, and flavorful.”
What’s selling? Brian Mosser, Retail General Manager at Get Healthy, which has two stores in Florida, offers insight: “At Get Healthy we offer naturally sweetened chocolates, baking mixes, snacks, and ice creams. We have also been using these sweeteners for some time in our Get Fresh Café, making our sweet treats in high demand for our customers seeking these more natural options.”
Get Healthy’s top sellers, according to Mosser: “Monk Fruit and erythritol would have to be our stores’ #1 selling alternative natural sweeteners.” SweetLeaf liquid stevia products, however, “dominate the liquid sweetener category still.”
Louderback also points to stevia is a perennially popular pick, and for good reason: “In addition to reports that suggest stevia may help support healthy balance blood sugar levels, it’s also been used in Brazil as an aid to digestive function, and may support dental health as well!”
Those are far from the only sweet-n-healthy options for consumers. “Many natural sweeteners contain nutrients,” says Louderback. Take coconut sugar, for example. “[It] is high in potassium, phosphorus, and zinc,” she explains. “Yacon syrup, made from the roots of the yacon plant, is rich in short chain sugars like inulin, which act as a prebiotic in the colon. Some natural sweeteners also provide a sweet taste without the spike in blood sugar levels. Sorbitol and xylitol are considered sugar alcohols, found naturally in berries, apples, and plums, and are produced commercially from carbohydrates such as sucrose, glucose, and starch. As a group, sugar alcohols affect blood glucose levels less dramatically than sugar and therefore require little or no insulin for metabolism.”
Shining more light on coconut sugar, Paul Hodge, CEO of Laird Superfood, says, “We understand that many consumers prefer a sweeter taste profile in their coffee and hydration beverage. We realize that the ‘delicious’ quotient plays a critical factor in determining the success of a particular SKU in our brand portfolio. As a result, we made the conscious effort to meet our customers in the middle by incorporating an organic coconut sugar that has a glycemic index of less than half that of processed sugar, which is in many similar products available in the marketplace. We were able to successfully accomplish this without sacrificing taste.”
For those who are looking to cut calories even more: “Monk fruit, erythritol and stevia are all zero-calorie sweeteners,” says Rosenberg. “They have zero glycemic impact, zero grams of carbs and zero grams of sugar per serving. Best of all, there are no artificial ingredients or additives. These products are great for sweetening coffee or tea, oatmeal, yogurt and almost anywhere you would use sugar. These sweeteners are Keto friendly and a good fit for other no-sugar diets and are perfect for diabetics.”
Supplying the Sweet: 5 trending ingredients
• Monk fruit: Consumers want interesting, novel and—above all—delicious taste experiences, says David Thorrold, General Manager Sales and Marketing at Monk Fruit Corp, adding that this is “a perfect storm” for monk fruit. “Natural low-calorie sweetening with monk fruit has never been more in demand, and foods and beverages formulated with monk fruit are one of the stand-out trends for new product launches over the last 12 months.” He adds that unlike some of the not-so-clean-label sweeteners that consumers are looking to avoid (i.e., those with chemical-sounding names or highly complex manufacturing and purification processes) monk fruit is a value-adding ingredient choice. “[It] stands out as an authentically natural ingredient that makes ‘better food’ taste great, with no negatives on the ingredient label.”
• Allulose: This monosaccharide, present in small amounts in figs, raisins, jackfruit, maple syrup, molasses and brown sugar, is another trending zero-cal sweetener. Offering both liquid and solid forms, Wholesome Sweeteners boasts Allulose as one of their most
popular products. “Wholesome Allulose has a clean sugar taste with no bitterness and no aftertaste,” says Sarah Miller, Director of Marketing, Wholesome Sweeteners.
Supplier Tate and Lyle offers allulose as an ingredient for manufacturers under the name Dolcia Prima Allulose. It has no impact on blood glucose, so it serves as a useful ingredient in keto friendly, low net carb, or low sugar products, says Abigail Storms, the company’s VP of Global Platform Marketing and Innovation and Commercial Development. “It is a non-artificial sweetening ingredient that provides the sensory experience of sugar without the calories. Because it is a sugar, allulose delivers many of the functional benefits of sucrose, such as texture and mouthfeel, browning in baked goods, and freezing point depression in ice cream and other frozen desserts.”
• Palatinose (isomaltulose): Another functional sweetener, which can be used in food applications including baker goods, frozen desserts and more: BENEO’s Palatinose, a sweetener derived from beet sugar that offers energy in a balanced and sustained way. A study at Germany’s University of Freiburg revealed that with a pre-load of Beneo’s Palatinose, endurance athletes maintained a more stable blood glucose profile and higher fat oxidation, which resulted in improved cycling performance compared with maltodextrin, says Krause (2). “Further,” Krause adds, “the study suggests that Palatinose stabilized the blood glucose profile, with a lower blood glucose rise before exercise, and maintained this level throughout endurance exercise. As a result, a higher fat burning rate and lowered carbohydrate oxidation in energy metabolism were promoted.”
• Ribose: This five-carbon monosaccharide does not raise blood sugar. “Bioenergy Ribose is natural, safe, and clinically proven, working to regulate the body’s natural energy
synthesis,” says Penny Portner, Director of Marketing for Bioenergy. “It helps muscles regenerate lost energy by driving the body’s natural ATP production process, reducing muscle soreness, and helping to level the body’s energy supply, providing sustainable energy from the cellular level, with no crash. It is easy to formulate with Bioenergy Ribose and enhance the functional profile of products. It has half the sweetness of table sugar, enabling you to reduce the amount of sugar in most formulas by about 10%, without worrying about aftertaste. Bioenergy Ribose makes a sweet addition to all dairy products, any hot or cold beverage, as well as cereals, confectionery and chocolate.”
• Prebiotic fibers: Oligofructose and inulin are perfect for healthy sugar reduction, says Krause. Specifically, these fibrous sweeteners have positive effects on intestinal health. “Both have a mild sweetness and are ideal for sugar reduced foods such as baked goods and dairy products,” says Krause. “Partial sugar reduction with BENEO’s fibers has several effects at once: not only can the caloric content be reduced, but so can the glycemic effect. The natural dietary fibers obtained from the chicory root are not metabolized in the small intestine and their constituents do not enter the bloodstream—quite unlike sugar. In addition, a diet rich in fiber, such as is recommended by the WHO, contributes to healthy digestion.”
Backyard Sugarmaking: Harvesting Natural Sweeteners at Home
For those who want to disconnect from their everyday routines, backyard sugarmaking may be a rewarding hobby. Those who don’t live in the Maple belt may still have great success in maple sugarmaking, says Michelle Visser, author of Sweet Maple.
“Backyard sugarmaking is an opportunity to tap into a tree or two, collect a lot of sap, boil away most of the water, and bottle the sweet sugar that’s left,” says Visser. “But even more than that, it’s a chance for families to reconnect, minus electronics and other distractions. Everyone, to some degree, longs for a more basic lifestyle, and parents are enthusiastic to see their children interested in anything that harkens back to the days before social media. Backyard sugarmaking draws families together around a crackling fire and an intoxicating aroma, all while encouraging dedication to hard work and offering a payout in sweet syrup.”
Besides the fun of the process, cooking with natural maple syrup provides several benefits.
“All-natural maple syrup is a miraculous sugar—no matter how you source it—containing natural anti-carcinogens, anti-inflammatory properties, and polyphenols, which encourage brain health and deter diabetes,” she says. “But when you make your own, you have this insane satisfaction of pouring the glorious sweetness on your breakfast plate while looking out into the backyard at the very tree you sourced it from. And so many folks can have this deeply satisfying farm-to-table experience, even if they rent a small house in a busy suburb.”
Any anyone can become a sugarmaker. If you’re willing to wait for specific weather patterns, pick up a few basic pieces of equipment, and tap one of 30 varieties of trees, you can be a sugarmaker, Visser insists.
Michelle Visser is a fourth generation gardener, author, photographer, and homesteader in rural New England. On a 200-year-old farmhouse laid upon 14 rocky tree-filled acres in New Hampshire, her family makes an effort to live life a little more simply by growing some of their own food, raising a few farm animals, and making their own all-natural maple sugar.
Learn more about backyard sugarmaking by visiting www.soulyrested.com.
Selling: Sweet success strategies
“In the retail environment sampling is everything,” says Hodge. “Customers need to be able to try a new product offering first before committing to making the purchase.”
Rosenberg believes sugar avoidance is a trend that will continue to grow in the year to come, so retailers should spotlight their offerings. “Create signs and shelf tags that call out ‘Zero Sugar,’ ‘Low Glycemic,’ and ‘Keto Friendly.’ Make it easy for customers to find these products and understand how they’re different from sugar. Offer zero-sugar recipes in your store and on your website. Place these sugar alternatives in your café or coffee bar if there is one. Education and trial are key so look for opportunities to give out samples and educate your staff.”
Changing the marketing lingo to a more positive theme can also help, suggests Thorrold. As an example, “Monk fruit is not about ‘reduced’ or ‘less.’ Monk fruit is about ‘more!’ More flavour, more authenticity, more natural, more nutrition, and products more closely aligned with the evolving dietary choices of today’s consumers.” WF
Recipe: Maple Peanut Butter
Homemade, all-natural, super-easy Maple Peanut butter.
3 Cups (16 oz) salted and shelled peanuts.
3 tablespoons maple syrup
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees F
- Roast peanuts on a cookie tray in the oven for 20 minutes. Simply spread the peanuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake on a middle rack of the oven.
- Immediately, while peanuts are still warm, use a food processor to cream them. It may take quite a few minutes to get a creamy consistency, but don’t give up. Also, if your food processor is extra large, you will want to double this recipe. The nuts need to fill up a large portion of your bowl for the processor to cream them well.
- Once you have a creamy peanut butter, add 1 tablespoon of maple syrup for every 1 cup of peanuts that you started with and mix it in.
- Store in an airtight container.
- Zion Market Research, “Global Natural Sweeteners Market Will Reach USD 37.6 Billion By 2025,” globenewswire.com, Posted 5/30/19. Accessed 9/4/19. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/05/30/1859391/0/en/Global-Natural-Sweeteners-Market-Will-Reach-USD-37-6-Billion-By-2025-Zion-Market-Research.html?print=1
- König, et al., “Substrate Utilization and Cycling Performance Following Palatinose Ingestion: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Trial,” Nutrients. 8(7) 390 (2016). www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4963866.