This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. Learn more x

DSM in Food, Beverages & Dietary Supplements

Sugar-Reduced Dairy’s Health Paradox

Increasingly we hear from our customers that sugar is seen as ‘the new fat’, and the real culprit for expanding waistlines around the world, and it seems that consumers agree. In a recent DSM consumer survey, more than 60% of respondents reported that they are concerned about the amount of sugar in their dairy products. Between 2009 and 2014 global sales in sugar-reduced dairy grew 14%, and many more sugar-reduced options have landed on grocery store shelves since.

While public and consumer interest in sugar reduction has never been higher, sugar-reduced products have a comparatively low share of the market—which is something of a health paradox. The reason for this may be that current products fail to meet consumers’ diverse requirements. We at DSM see two ways forward for companies that are interested in providing healthier, but still great-tasting, dairy products that meet the demand.

Enhancing taste – the natural way

In our consumer survey, 48% of respondents said ‘taste’ was their reason for not purchasing a sugar-reduced dairy product. And 36% said their reason was due to concerns about artificial sweeteners or additives. Dairy products such as milk and yogurt have a health halo due to their high nutrient density and ‘close to nature’ image. Reducing sugar by using artificial sweeteners remains an area of concern for consumers, both in terms of safety and taste, and is contradictory to the naturally healthy perception of dairy.

The perception of natural sweetening methods is much more positive, which presents an opportunity for dairy producers to innovate and position ‘naturally sweetened’ products on the market. Of utmost importance here is that the better-for-you options taste just as good, and are as satisfying, as their regular counterparts, and for the best chance of success, that the product offers more than just one benefit. Touting the benefits of increased protein and reduced fat alongside sugar reduction is also a successful strategy.

Taking a stealth health approach

We know that responsible companies are concerned about the sugar content of their products, and have made public commitments to reduce the sugar found in their recipes. In addition, far reaching agreements between government, food industry and retail are in place in several countries for voluntary, stepwise reduction of sugar levels in food and beverage products. However, as our research also showed, consumers expect that sugar reduced products have a worse taste than the regular products and avoid them.

Therefore, food companies often will take a ‘stealth’ approach to sugar reduction: sugar levels are reduced step-by-step in food products, without it being explicitly mentioned on the label. This will bring positive long-term health outcomes due to reduced sugar intake, without alienating consumers from brands they know and love. Success with a similar method can be found with bread, where salt levels have been reduced year-over-year without a noticeable taste difference for the consumer, but with a significant public health benefit. Can this be the successful approach for sugared dairy?

Without a doubt, consumers and governments around the world are pulling away from sugar. How are you responding with your products?