29 Jun 2021 — The Union of European Soft Drinks Associations (UNESDA) has revealed its enhanced health and nutrition targets to help Europeans manage their intake of added sugars from soft drinks with a pledge to reduce sugar by a further 10 percent by 2025. Key sugar reduction players, including SweeGen, Kerry, Roquette and Sensient, also share their insights following the latest moves for sugar reduction.
The new targets will represent a 33 percent overall reduction in average added sugars over the last two decades, building on past sugar reduction milestones that the industry achieved from 2015 to 2019 (14.6 percent reduction on average) and from 2000 to 2015 (13.3 percent reduction on average).
Soft drinks shake-up
Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Nicholas Hodac, director-general of UNESDA, says these new goals are “very ambitious,” and the soft drinks industry will accelerate the speed and scale of its sugar reductions.
“However, we are very confident that we will deliver on our new pledge. We will do so through increasing our efforts on the reformulation of existing products and innovation of new products, including using low-calorie sweeteners.”
Further, UNESDA will introduce products in smaller pack sizes to support portion control and continue to invest in the promotion of no- and low-sugar products to drive consumer choice toward healthier products.
Tailored approach to health
The European Association of Sugar Manufacturers, CEFS, stands behind the objective of the Farm to Fork Strategy.
“Sugar has been at the center of heated debates about its impact on our health, and as such it is often targeted by initiatives, be it private or public ones,” Marie-Christine Ribera, director general at CEFS tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“We want to facilitate consumers’ path toward healthy and sustainable diets, and support all practices that actually help improve people’s health. In the end, we all want the same thing: a truly effective solution to the problems of obesity and noncommunicable diseases.”
To be effective, nutrition policies must reflect the state of the science, flags Ribera.
“Fighting overweight and obesity is crucial because it is at the origin of diet-related noncommunicable diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer.”
“Reformulation must thus be seen in the context of overweight and obesity. But when it comes to reformulation, calorie reduction should be the new priority,” affirms Ribera.
Industry players respond
FoodIngredientsFirst reached out to SweeGen, Kerry, Sensient Technologies and Roquette, who are all active in sugar reduction technologies.
Food and drink companies are viewing reformulation as innovation, says Michael Halvorsen, senior director of business development, EMEA at SweeGen.
“As the push to reduce sugar continues, new sweet taste solutions from companies like Sweegen will be critical, and regulatory bodies will be essential in helping to make sugar reduction innovations more accessible to beverage companies,” he says.
For example, SweeGen is in its last stage in the EU regulatory approval process for its Signature Stevia Bestevia Reb M.
This is the last hurdle to satisfying the demand for Reb M, a stevia sweetener in Europe. For the past few years, SweeGen has been collaborating with major European F&B manufacturers to explore application developments for creating beverage innovations.
“Not only are governments progressively enforcing sugar tax and nutritional targets, but consumers are now expecting natural solutions, with cleaner and shorter ingredient lists that are free of additives,” says Marc Lejeune, taste business development for Sweet & Beverage for Kerry Europe and Russia.
A holistic approach
According to Lejeune, sugar reduction is a “clear focus” while the functional ingredient offering is steadily increasing, opening new avenues through a holistic approach to balanced nutrition.
“However, taste is a key driver of consumer preference, and it is important to raise the acceptance of beverages with lower sweetness,” he urges.
Kerry’s solutions, such as TasteSense Sweet, address side effects from sweeteners and enhance mouthfeel attributes while delivering balanced taste and sweetness from interactions with taste receptors.
“They are also the ‘perfect solution’ to pair with functional ingredients such as minerals, vitamins, bioactives and protein in nutritional and healthy beverages,” notes Lejeune.
“Reducing sugar in beverages is a key strategy for a healthier population, whether through legislation, taxation or providing consumers with choice. However, consumer’s expectations are the same for reduced beverages as they are for full-sugar products,” adds James Street, marketing director for Beverage Flavors in Europe at Sensient Flavors.
“It’s known that product reformulation is a challenge. Reducing sugar impacts product taste, odor and mouthfeel. However, it is not generally appreciated that the sugar in beverages matures over time to form sweet, caramelized flavors,” he outlines.
As a result, the full-sugar beverage the consumer purchases, tastes and enjoys does not truly represent the beverage that leaves the production line,” Street continues.
“The consumer expects that the taste and odor of the matured beverage remain the same and true over life. The challenge is therefore not to reformulate to match the product taste and odor of the freshly made beverage, but to match the matured taste and odor of the product the consumer purchases and enjoys.”
Sensient Flavors has re-invented its Sweet Solutions products to incorporate natural zero-calorie extracts that contain the desirable matured taste and odor of a full sugar beverage to meet this challenge.
These Matured Sweet Solutions can be formulated to meet consumer expectations in zero, and reduced-sugar drinks and have been successfully demonstrated in cola, orangeade and juice drinks.
Health and wellness prevails
For Carole Petitjean, head of corporate communications at Roquette, consumers actively seek ways to contribute to better health and well-being.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased consumers’ attraction to health and well-being in food and beverages, with a particular focus on health and immunity.
Permissible indulgence, healthier and convenient food options are increasingly present on store shelves, and sugar reduction remains paramount, she says.
“Another major driver of reformulation in Europe is the Nutri-Score front-of-pack labeling (FoPL) scheme, which increases consumer awareness of the nutritional quality of food products by scoring them on a scale of A to E, based on the content of fruits and vegetables, fiber, protein, energy, sugars, saturated fatty acids and sodium.”
Manufacturers adopt various strategies in response: reformulate their main brand along healthier lines or keep the original but develop an alternative offering a healthier option, for instance, 30 percent fewer sugars. “In the end, the aim is again to improve nutritional value while keeping product quality and enjoyment,” adds Petitjean.
On top of this, regulatory pressure is increasing on the topic of sugar content, she notes.
“It is not only spreading in Europe with soda taxes on high-content sugar products in most EU countries, but these taxes and other governmental strategies around warning icons, traffic lights, and advertising limitations are also on the rise worldwide, especially in Latin America. In Europe, the nutritional claim on ‘low sugars/no sugars added’ is the most used claim,” Petitjean explains.
Enabling policy frameworks
As in past commitments, Hodac says UNESDA will work with independent external research to monitor added sugar reduction progress.
“In multiple member states, our industry is already actively working with local governments and stakeholders on sugar reduction, and the UNESDA commitments have triggered many local reduction pledges across Europe.”
Further, UNESDA is calling on EU policymakers to promote a “multi-faceted and multi-stakeholder approach” to address obesity and overweight and to consider meaningful voluntary approaches to sugar reduction.
Changes to marketing
The other new commitment announced by Europe’s soft drinks industry is related to its marketing and advertising to children.
Currently, no soft drinks are advertised anywhere in Europe to children younger than 12 years old, where the audience consists of more than 35 percent of this age group.
The industry will raise the minimum age limit to 13 years old and lower the audience threshold to 30 percent so that, in practice, fewer young children will be directly exposed to advertising for any of its soft drinks.
Dietary habits evolve
Consumers are, more than ever, aware of the importance of healthier dietary habits for improving overall well-being, adds Hodac.
“They are increasingly interested in managing the food and beverages they consume and choosing drinks with less sugar and more nutrition benefits. We are listening to these changing consumer preferences and adapting our offer to the different tastes and needs.”
“We are responding to these concerns through our voluntary actions on sugar reduction, responsible marketing practices to children and schools policies. Therefore actions are required, the intake and frequency of soft drinks consumption has reduced.”
“Our sugar reduction journey is, and will continue to be, very much linked to the reformulation of existing drinks and innovation of new products, including using low-calorie sweeteners,” Hodac asserts.
Roquette Ventures recently invested in Magellan Life Sciences Ltd., a UK-based biotech company that develops plant proteins through a fermentation process. This partnership aims at accelerating the market entry of new protein sweeteners.
Earlier this month, biotechnology company Better Juice raised US$8 million in seed round investment for its enzymatic technology, which reduces sugar content in fruit juices – a process its creators say will fulfill a “significant need” in the better-for-you segment.
By Elizabeth Green
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