Recent launches in the mid-calorie drinks space include all the soft drink big guns: Coca-Cola Life, Pepsi True and Dr Pepper’s TEN, all of which have at least a 30% calorie reduction but still contain some sugar. In addition, Sprite – firmly in the mainstream, and not positioned as mid-calorie per se – has been reformulated for the European market with stevia-derived sweeteners and 30% fewer calories.
“We are seeing a movement overall to more moderate solutions,” said Faith Son, vice president of global marketing and innovation at PureCircle, speaking with FoodNavigator at IFT last week.
The company introduced a stevia sweetener blend in December last year for dairy products, dubbed Sigma-D, intended as a drop-in (but still customisable) sweetening system for dairy drinks and other non-fermented dairy products, and the company says consumers are prepared to consider overall calories, rather than calories specifically from sugar or from fat.
At IFT in Chicago, PureCircle introduced a similar concept for iced tea, called Sigma-T, intended for sweetening mid-calorie tea drinks with about a 40-50% calorie reduction compared to regular iced tea.
“Where we feel like we have something to bring to the market that’s significantly better, that’s where we are introducing products,” Son said. “...Because there’s such large variation, we are leaving room for further customisation.”
Although much of the innovation in mid-calorie concepts has been drinks-focused, Sigma-D marked a move toward other categories, and PureCircle has also seen a growing number of mid-calorie introductions with stevia sweeteners in sauces and ketchups, among others.
“Consumers are on a real journey,” said Son. “Everyone has more health and wellness concerns than they did a generation ago and they realise there are no silver bullet answers.”
Therefore, they are more open than ever to the idea of gradual reductions in calories, including in favourite products.
“People realise it’s more about small steps over time in a way that’s really sustainable,” she said.
Referring to PureCircle’s own market research, she added that consumer awareness of stevia was growing globally, but there was still huge variation. In Chile, for example, 92% of consumers have heard of stevia, but in Southeast Asia, awareness was still at about 20%.
However, the company had found that sentiment about stevia sweeteners was overwhelmingly – and increasingly – positive.