Food and drink manufacturers should embrace calls from newly formed campaign group Action on Sugar to slash the levels of sugar in foods and drinks, according to the food and nutrition policy expert.
"With sugar we have the advantage that we do not have with other nutrients such as fat and salt. We have an acceptable substitute ingredient - we have sweeteners" Winkler told FoodNavigator.
"If you look at the sales of sugar-free products, they have been going up for decades - and this speaks consumer acceptability."
However, Winkler suggested that the current difficulty with the use of sweeteners in foods to replace sugars is that they have so far only been used by industry in very specific categories.
"There has been a conspicuous failure to extend the use of sweeteners as an aid to sugar reduction in to other major sweet food categories such as confectionery, baked goods, biscuits and breakfast cereals, and dairy goods such as yoghurt deserts."
"We just have not got a lot of penetration in these categories despite the fact that there are a lot of acceptable sweeteners already on the market and there is a lot currently going on with stevia."
Indeed, Winkler said that the major challenge faced by the industry is extending the use of sweeteners in to these product groups.
According to Winkler, one very important point for consideration is that most sweeteners are much cheaper than sugar. Indeed, a recent article written by Winkler and his colleagues for sister publication The Grocer set out just how profitable switching out sugar for sweeteners could be for manufacturers.
“There is a cost of production advantage to making use of them and to reducing levels of sugar,” he told us. “And that applies whether we are talking about chocolate, breakfast cereal, or whatever.”
“For example I’ve never understood why we can’t spray dry a breakfast cereal with a sweetener instead of sugar. That’s not technologically complex.”
The bottom line is simple, he said: “You’ll make money if you do this.”
“You’ll make more money if you do it. And that’s where the real potential in using substitute ingredients lies for the food industry.”
“Lower your cost of production, you give away part of that margin but you make more profit and you put out healthier products too.”
When it comes to replacing sugar for sweeteners, Winkler suggested that this is completely possible, adding that although there may be technical challenges in using sweeteners in some food categories, and ‘we are not quite there yet’, there will be much more done in line with these ideas in the coming years.