Health concerns drive sugar-free ingredient growth

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sugar-free gum Xylitol Chewing gum Sugar Uk

Sugar-free alternatives are beginning to take off in a number of
food sectors, driven by health concerns and product innovation
according to new research.

This is most noticeable within confectionery. Malcolm McIntyre, UK communications consultant for Palatinit, claims that the past three years have seen a 36 per cent UK growth in confectionery that have exchanged sugar for bulk sweeteners.

This of course fits into the growing trend towards products that are considered to be 'healthier'. According to market analyst Mintel, just over 34 per cent of UK consumers are now avoiding sugar​, while in France and Germany, the figures are 40 per cent and 37 per cent respectively.

The sugar-free confectionery revolution has been most consolidated in the chewing gum sector. Germany-based Palatinit, which produces a number of sugar-free ingredients such as isomalt, claims that the majority of chewing gum sold worldwide today is sugar-free, with Spain having a 100 per cent market share.

Elsewhere, sugar-free gum occupies 99 per cent of the market in Poland, 95 per cent in Russia and 92 per cent in the UK.

In France where sugar-free has a market share of 88 per cent - traditional sugar chewing gum consumption was down 16 per cent against a 13 per cent rise in sales of the sugar-free alternatives.

These sweeteners have now diversified into soft drinks, beverages, baking and even ice cream. According to McIntyre, taste tests conducted by Palatinit across four countries - including the UK gave sugar-free products the thumbs up.

Other companies are also busy launching sugar-free ingredients. Tate & Lyle for example has developed a new sweetener solution for dairy desserts, which it claims allows manufacturers to cut around a third of calories and half of total sugars from their product formulations.

Developed by the group's European research team, Dairy Dessert Rebalance is designed for use in a range of milk-based desserts with neutral pH. In addition, Cargill Sweetness Solutions, which markets erythritol under the brand C Eridex, believes that Europe could be the next big market.

The EC Council of Health Ministers only finalised the legislative process last month to approve the use of erythritol in foods, under the same conditions as other polyols, and the group expects erythritol to grow substantially in the coming years.

Indeed, it is increasingly clear that major food and beverage companies have to adapt to this change in consumer preference. The recent announcement of a sharp fall in profits of soft-drinks firm Britvic was explained for example by an acceleration of the consumer trend towards health and well-being and a decline in the full sugar carbonate market​.

And this move towards sugar-free is not restricted to Western Europe and the US. China is seen by many as the upcoming market for sugar-free products, with a growth rate of sugar-free gum in 2005 of 146 per cent over the previous year.

McIntyre said that there was also impressive sales potential in new markets such as Poland, Russia, Turkey, Greece and South America.

Western firms are therefore taking an increasing interest in sectors where demand far outstrips supply.

Sugar alternatives are different to intense, or table-top sweeteners. While tabletop sweeteners are designed to sweeten, say tea or coffee, sugar alternatives are designed to replace the bulk of sugar.

The level of sweetness is therefore determined by the manufacturer.

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