This is an improvement over a very short time, according to Tate & Lyle’s marketing director for the Middle East and Africa, Dominique Floch. “They are more ready than they were a year ago,” he says.
There are now two tiers of customer for the sweetener specialist: those who are trying different ways to reduce the sugar content of their products; and those who are in an active wait-and-see phase.
“It’s a burning issue but it’s not a new one. The risk that consumers face if they don’t change their diets is really increasing. we really see that the food industry is in need of solutions,” Floch adds.
He has been placing his focus on the 18 different types of stevia in the brand’s portfolio to assure potential customers that their products will not lose the characteristic sweetness, viscosity and mouthfeel delivered by processed sugar.
“A lot of it is having the right products. And what we are doing is building the right team to help them,” he says, explaining that the company employs a Middle East technical support operation from its Dubai office with 10 staff to advise on re-formulation.
He says Tate & Lyle stevia can deliver up to 60% less sugar than a full-sugar product, and can be helpful if a company wants to launch a no-sugar-added product.
“And we can also help to adapt to viscosity change when we remove sugar because the ultimate goal for us is to provide the right product to the consumer so they are still able to enjoy the same consumer experience when drinking a juice or eating a yoghurt without sugar,” Floch adds.
But while consumers are becoming increasingly aware of sugar-related health issues, studies show that those in the Middle East are reluctant to act on their concerns. This has prompted governments in the region to use the stick to change behaviour—whereas Tate & Lyle prefers the carrot.
A recent excise tax was implemented in the UAE to add 50% onto the price of sweetened beverages and 100% on energy drinks, and it is likely the government there will introduce new health guidelines in 2018.
“It’s not really a sugar tax, it’s more of a sin tax because they don’t tax based on sugar content; they tax based on the type of product,” says Floch.
“It shows that the government is willing to do something to force companies to get into healthier foods. They have chosen a tool that could have been different, but it shows that sugar is on their radar.”
His opinion, however, is that the best way to filter sugar-reduction down to the end-customer is to encourage his clients to change their mixture.
“It could be re-formulation driven by corporate responsibility of the client, and willingness to bring healthier food to the consumers. Tax might help, but I’m not the one to say if tax is the right tool,” he adds.