In the years following the 2019 IBIE, the term net carb made a comeback, sugar reduction remained a concern, and consumers continued to show interest in plant protein as well as an increasing interest in sustainably sourced ingredients.

Nearly 20 years ago the amount of net carbs in products gained prominence with the rise of the Atkins diet. Nowadays, the keto diet is playing a role in the term becoming a crucial part of marketing strategies again. The keto diet differs from the Atkins diet in that the Atkins diet emphasizes protein consumption instead of fat and allows up to 80 to 100 grams of net carbohydrates daily. Although no federal definition of net carb exists, the Atkins diet defines net carbs as total carbohydrates minus fiber and sugar alcohols (polyols).

Consumers on a keto diet must restrict carbohydrate intake to below 50 grams per day, which leaves little room for bread, grains or cereals, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The body, since it does not have enough carbohydrates for energy, breaks down fat into ketones, which become the primary source of fuel, leading to weight loss. Technavio forecasts the global keto diet market to have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 5% from 2020 to 2024.

The International Food Information Council’s 2022 Food and Health Survey found 52% of respondents said they followed a diet or eating pattern in the past year, an increase from 39% in 2021, 43% in 2020 and 38% in 2019. Among those who said they followed a diet or eating pattern, 7% said they followed a ketogenic or high-fat diet and 6% said they followed a low-carbohydrate diet. Last December a survey from Packaged Facts showed 20% of consumers reported they had followed the keto diet at least sometimes.

New products promoted as keto-friendly have ranged from cereal to chips to bars. Many contain almond flour. Stevia, allulose, inulin and monk fruit are popular sweeteners in the products.

Manildra Group USA offers GemPro wheat proteins and FiberGem resistant wheat starch to transform traditional bakery items into low-carbohydrate items. The resistant wheat starch creates a bright white crumb structure and soft mouthfeel while adding dietary fiber, according to Manildra, while the wheat protein adds structure and texture. When combined, FiberGem and GemPro proteins mimic the viscoelastic properties of white flour.

Ardent Mills in 2021 launched its keto-certified net carb flour blend for use in applications like pizza, tortillas and bread. Since the blend does not contain nuts and contains gluten, bakers may run it on their current equipment without any changes. The blend is available in white (all-purpose) and specialized flour blends.

The IFIC Food and Health Survey shows a consistent interest in sugar reduction. In the 2022 survey, 73% of respondents said they were trying to limit or avoid sugar, which compared with 72% in 2021, 74% in 2020 and 80% in 2019.

More formulators turned to allulose, a “rare sugar,” in sugar-reduction plans after the US Food and Drug Administration in 2019 exempted it from being included as a carbohydrate, sugar or added sugar on the Nutrition Facts Label. “Rare sugars” are found in nature in small quantities.

In other sweetener news, DouxMatok, an Israeli-based food technology company, now offers its Incredo sugar in North America. The ingredient allows up to 50% sugar reduction by enhancing the perception of sweetness.

Much research in the sweetener category centered on how to increase supply of Rebaudioside D and Rebaudioside M, the two steviol glycosides in the stevia plant that most closely mimic the sweetness of sugar. International food safety authority Codex Alimentarius early in 2022 adopted a framework that encompasses four different technologies for producing steviol glycosides: stevia leaf extract, steviol glycosides from bioconversion, steviol glycosides from fermentation and glucosylated steviol glycosides.

“ISC was instrumental in getting this new framework approved, which benefits the entire stevia industry,” said Maria Teresa Scardigli, executive director of the International Stevia Council. “The framework approach ensures that business operators can put steviol glycosides produced through their various technologies on the market without submitting new dossiers, provided they fulfill the defined criteria and specifications per technology.

Soybeans and peas often are chosen for plant-based food formulations. US retail sales of plant-based foods grew 6.2% in 2021 to reach a value of $7.4 billion, according to data released in March of this year by the Plant Based Foods Association, The Good Food Institute and SPINS. Polaris Market Research forecasts the global pea protein market to have a compound annual growth rate of 12% with revenue increasing to $519 million by 2028 from $217.7 million in 2020. The Business Research Co. forecasts the global soy protein market to have a CAGR of 8% and increase to $11.14 billion by 2026.

Interest in sustainability practices could have consumers looking for further certifications beyond the organic seal from the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. A recent survey from The Hartman Group found 78% of respondents said they agreed either somewhat or completely that they wished organic certification had more stringent requirements about better conditions for workers. Another 67% said they already use, are very interested in or are somewhat interested in products associated with regenerative agricultural practices, which refer to environmental benefits such as soil health.

“They’re looking for some additional practices and policies to layer on top of organic,” said Laurie Demeritt, chief executive officer of The Hartman Group, in a webinar.