Subtracting sugar from formulations

by Jeff Gelski & Keith Nunes
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Nestlé's Nesquik brand is focused on reducing the sugar content in its products.

Count Nestle USA’s Nesquik brand as another business focused on reducing the sugar content in its products. On April 13 the company disclosed its original chocolate and straw-berry varieties now contain 15% and 27% less added sugar, respectively.

Nestle replaced the sugar with cocoa and other natural flavors. Now with 10.6 grams of added sugar per two-tablespoon serving, the reformulated powders are slated to hit shelves nationwide this month with a new label to promote the changes. The company said it dedicated 18 months to the reformulation with consumer testing to ensure the reduced-sugar recipes maintain the taste of the original products.

The changes are the latest in a series of sugar reduction efforts announced by Nestle. Since 2000, the company has reduced added sugar in Nesquik’s chocolate powder formula by 35%. Within the next few months, every flavor in the Nesquik portfolio of powder and ready-to-drink products will contain only 10.6 grams of added sugar. Nestle has further committed to introducing product refinements and innovations to the brand over the coming years.

Nestle is not alone in its efforts to reduce sugar content. General Mills, Minneapolis, has revealed plans to introduce a 25% sugar reduction across its entire Yoplait Original yogurt line. PepsiCo has followed a similar path with some of its new Mtn Dew Kickstart varieties, which contain coconut water and include 60% less sugar than original Mountain Dew, according to the company.

As part of its commitment to the Partnership for a Healthier America, the Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y., has pledged to reduce the amount of total sugar in Dannon products to 23 grams or less per 6-oz serving in 100% of products for children and 70% of the company’s products overall by 2016. Dannon said in February it already had met or exceeded its commitment to reduce sugar in products overall, with 76% of its portfolio meeting those standards, and had made progress with 91% of children’s products compliant at the end of the first year.

But who are the core consumers focused on reducing the amount of sugar in their diets and replacing them with ingredients that are perceived as natural by consumers? Steve French, managing partner of the Natural Marketing Institute, said they may be described as “well-beings.”

Mr. French divided consumers into five categories when he spoke April 8 at Ingredient Marketplace in Orlando, Fla. Well-beings, who are proactive about their health, are likely to use natural sweeteners such as stevia extracts.

“They are leading the charge,” he said. “They were the first adapters of natural sweeteners and will continue to be the first adapters, and not only sweeteners but all areas of health and wellness.”

Another consumer group, “fence-sitters,” want to be healthier, but they need direction and education, Mr. French said.

The well-beings and the fence-sitters were more likely to agree with the statement “I typically watch the sugar content in my diet.” While well-beings make up 20% of the U.S. population, they made up 28% of the group that agreed with the statement. While fence-sitters make up 25% of the population, they made up 27% of the group that agreed with the statement.

Three other consumer groups defined by Mr. French include “food actives,” “magic bullets” and “eat, drink and be merrys.” The food actives are into mainstream health and make up about 16% of the population. The magic bullets seek convenient ways to deal with health, including supplements and prescription drugs. They make up about 21% of the population. The eat, drink and be merrys are the least health active group and make up about 18% of the population.

Mr. French also spoke about stevia, high-fructose corn syrup and added sugars.

Seventeen per cent of American adults in 2014 said they regularly used stevia, which was the same percentage as sucralose, according to research from the N.M.I., which is based in Harleysville, Pa. Stevia had a compound annual growth rate of 30% from 2007 to 2013, Mr. French said.

Only 9% of consumers said they use HFCS.

“They would obviously be mistaken if they were to read the labels on the back of the beverage products,” Mr. French said.

Some consumers are more likely to check ingredient lists for HFCS.

“Others don’t even realize that high-fructose corn syrup is part of a product that they have been using for perhaps 20 years,” Mr. French said.

Research from the N.M.I. showed the percentage of Americans agreeing with the statement “I prefer foods with no sugars added” increased to 52% in 2014 from 40% in 2005.

Consumers now are more likely to choose an item promoted for having no added sugar.

“Even though it may be a high caloric beverage, there is no added sugar,” Mr. French said.

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