Have it Your Way
Sweeteners Offer New, Customized Beverage Options
By Sarah Theodore
The beverage industry used
to offer two product options: regular and diet. Sure, there were different
flavors and some companies even tried different sweeteners, but the basic
offerings were the same. This could be the year that changes all of that.
Pushed along by consumers who know they should watch their waistlines, but
are unwilling to “diet”, many beverage-makers are considering
products that would meet them in the middle. And they have a variety of
sweeteners that will allow them to create a range of products that fill the
gap between full-calorie and no-calorie.
Diet beverages for years have lagged behind sales of
full-calorie products. But last year’s soft drink results show a
changing trend. Diet drinks led the category last year, with all of the
major diet brands showing gains vs. their regular counterparts. Diet Coke
was up 2.7 percent in 2003, according to Information Resources Inc. and
ACNielsen. Diet Sprite grew 3.9 percent, Diet Pepsi 4 percent, Diet Pepsi
Cherry a whopping 69 percent and Diet Dr Pepper 5 percent.
But not everyone wants a diet drink. Some people just
want to cut back on calories, and that’s where today’s new
breed of products are emerging. Pepsi-Cola Co. has announced a mid-calorie
cola called Pepsi Edge will hit the market late this summer, and Coca-Cola
is said to be readying a mid-cal product potentially named C2. Dr
Pepper/Seven Up is thought to be considering a mid-calorie version of Dr
Pepper. The products combine soft drinks’ traditional high fructose
corn syrup with non-nutritive sweeteners such as sucralose or acesulfame
potassium for about half the calories and carbohydrates.
Juice companies such as Tropicana and Old Orchard are
taking the same approach in their category. Both Tropicana Light ’n
Healthy and Old Orchard’s Lo Carb juice use Splenda brand sucralose
to reduce the amount of sugar and calories in the products. Tropicana says
it created the product based on research that showed 41 percent of
consumers do not drink orange juice because of the calorie content.
Blending For Taste
The ability to customize beverages is made possible by the number
of sweeteners that are now available to beverage-makers. The potential for sweetener
blends has been promoted for several years, especially by companies such as
Nutrinova, which makes Sunett brand acesulfame potassium, a sweetener that is
200 times sweeter than sugar. Nutrinova has long believed its ingredient had
strong synergies with other sweeteners, and now that more beverage manufacturers
are considering blends, the company is pointing to research that indicates certain
sweeteners also can bring out certain flavors in a beverage.
Nutrinova’s most recent research looked at
coffee and tea in both hot and ready-to-drink forms. It found that by
manipulating blends of sweeteners (working with sucrose, sucralose,
aspartame and ace-k), it could influence the overall flavor profile.
While it found that an ace-k/aspartame blend worked
best across all coffee and tea flavors, a combination of ace-k and
sucralose helped produce a good tea or roasted coffee flavor and remained
stable in hot beverages with a higher pH value. Previous research indicated
similar abilities for colas and lemon-lime soft drinks, and the company
says it can now recommend the optimum sweetener blend to create a taste
profile that is unique to each product.
Nutrinova also recently received general-use approval
from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, allowing it to be used in any
number of applications from snack foods to cereals, canned and processed
fruit, dairy products and sauces.
“The General Purpose Petition has opened up new categories for
Sunett and allows manufacturers to combine nutritive and/or non-nutritive sweeteners
in a wider range of product categories,” said Graham Hall, president and chief
operating officer at Nutrinova, in a statement.
The idea of sweetener blending has resonated with other companies
“As sweetener formulation evolves, you’ll
see more blends and more combinations of aspartame and ace-k and neotame
and sucralose,” says Craig Petray, chief executive officer at The
NutraSweet Co., Chicago, maker of aspartame and neotame sweeteners.
Petray says the company has expanded its focus from
selling sweeteners for diet products to creating entire systems for
no-calorie and mid-calorie products, with the goal of exactly replicating
full-calorie flavors. The company has created the NutraSweet Sweetener Center
of Excellence to formulate products using its own and competitive
sweeteners, if needed.
“The primary focus of our company is to look at this obesity
issue in a different light,” Petray says. “Knowing that Americans are reticent
to sacrifice on taste, our goal is to take incremental steps. If you can reduce
a beverage or food by 25 or 33 percent in sugar and calories and carbohydrates,
and maintain the exact same taste, that’s what we plan on doing.”
Look for more products to include the company’s
newer neotame sweetener, approved for use by the FDA in 2002. Neotame is
7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar (30 to 40 times sweeter than
aspartame). While the sweetener is appropriate for many kinds of beverages,
Petray says the ingredient’s intensity especially enhances
Petray says many of the products sold outside the
United States that incorporate NutraSweet ingredients are not labeled as
diet or even mid-calorie beverages. Whether to reduce calorie content or to
save money, the products contain blends of nutritive and non-nutritive
“If manufacturers in the United States focus on taste, taste
and taste, outside the United States the focus is on taste, taste and cost,”
he says. “Part of the benefit of a sugar substitute is that non-nutritive sweeteners
cost less than nutritive sweeteners. You can take out calories and make the
cost more effective.”
Brendan Naulty, director of sweetener sales and
marketing at Ajinomoto USA Inc., Paramus, N.J., another producer of
aspartame, agrees that economics make sweetener blends a benefit, but says
the jury is still out on consumer acceptance of the mid-calorie concept.
“There are economics to be gained using low-calorie sweeteners
to replace caloric sweeteners in many beverages,” he says. “The USA is behind
Europe in this respect. For many years, manufacturers in Europe, including subsidiaries
of U.S. companies, have used blends of low-calorie and caloric sweeteners in
regular soft drinks with great success.”
But he points out, “With respect to the concept of mid-calorie
offerings, the major soft drink companies already have great-tasting products
in their leading diet brands, which have zero carbs. Mid-calorie offerings have
been tried before and may be one of the options for consumers in the future.
However, it remains to be seen just what the consumer acceptance will be.”
The Glycemic Index
Read any low-carb diet book and you’ll come
across the term glycemic index. The term is used to measure the effect a
food or beverage has on the body’s blood sugar levels compared with a
standard amount of glucose. Each food is given a rating based on how fast
blood sugar levels increase and then drop back down. A number of factors
determine the way a food affects blood sugar, including the protein, fat
and fiber content of a product as well as differences between individuals.
The measurement is important to diabetics who need to
control blood sugar levels, and it is increasingly becoming important to
the low-carb diet community, which has argued that foods high on the
glycemic index cause surges in blood sugar and insulin, thus prompting
consumers to gain weight.
It’s safe to say that the average consumer
understands little about the glycemic index, but awareness of the concept
is growing and some sweetener companies are examining the issue and their
own products’ glycemic effects.
“As low-glycemic diets are studied more, and
consumers become aware of the benefits of this type of diet, consumers will
begin to adapt to reducing high-glycemic carbohydrates and incorporate this
into their routine,” says Donna Brooks, product manager at Danisco
Sweeteners, maker of specialty carbohydrates such as Litesse polydextrose,
Lactitol (not currently approved for use in beverages in the United States)
Brooks says the glycemic index of Danisco’s
sweeteners range from 4 to 7 vs. glucose at 100. Litesse polydextrose and
xylitol can be used in beverages to reduce calories without contributing
net impact carbs or significantly raising blood glucose levels, she points
out. The products can contribute to the flavor and mouthfeel of a beverage,
and Litesse also adds fiber. Xylitol has the additional benefit of being as
sweet as sugar with about half the calories.
“Beverages provide an excellent vehicle to
deliver healthful benefits, which are of increased interest to consumers,
and our ingredients are positioned to help expand this opportunity,”
Ajinomoto is introducing to the United States Amino
Vital, an amino acid sports supplement, which has been available in Japan
for the past four years. While not positioned as a
“low-glycemic” concept, the company has found its
reduced-glycemic response is one of the formulation’s benefits.
“Traditionally, sports nutrition drinks have had high carbohydrate
levels,” says Naulty. “However, athletes and health-conscious individuals can
derive a greater benefit from a low-carb, high-amino acid sports drink.”
The combination, he says, allows fast hydration, without the
glycemic response. “By using aspartame in combination with high fructose corn
syrup or glucose, for example, isotonic drink manufacturers can deliver the
sweetness and taste people want without impacting the product’s functionality,”
Spherix Inc., Beltsville, Md., and Arla Foods
Ingredients, makers of Gaio brand tagatose, recently announced research
that shows a low glycemic response of about 3 percent for their product.
“These results, well below that of competing
sweeteners, may make foods and beverages with tagatose even more attractive
to a weight-conscious public that increasingly embraces lowering
carbohydrates to lose weight,” said Gilbert Levin, Spherix executive
officer for science, in a statement.
Tagatose, which was the sweetener of choice for last
year’s introduction of Diet Pepsi Slurpee in 7-Eleven stores, has the
bulk of sugar, but has 1.5 calories per gram vs. sugar’s 4 calories.
In addition to being used on its own, the product can be used with
high-intensity sweeteners to change a product’s mouthfeel or flavor
Trehalose, a product from Cargill Sweeteners North America,
Minneapolis, has a mildly sweet profile, with about half the sweetness of sugar,
but it has been shown to elicit a low insulin response, making it an option
for sports drinks or other health beverages. The product has the added benefit
of helping to preserve cell structure, which is a benefit for freezing and thawing,
and is heat stable.
Developing a Retail Following
Splenda brand sucralose has made an impact as a
sweetener in low-calorie juices, soft drinks and dairy beverages, but it
also is seeing great success as a table-top sweetener. According to
Information Resources Inc., Splenda had nearly $100 million in supermarket
sales last year, leading a $40 million category increase. And consumers at
5,400 Starbucks stores nationwide will now be able to chose Splenda as one
of their sweetener options, thanks to an agreement announced last month.
The makers of Splenda, Tate & Lyle plc and McNeil
Nutritionals, also recently announced a realignment of their sucralose
agreement. Tate & Lyle will become the sole manufacturer and will be
responsible for worldwide ingredient sales to food and beverage
manufacturers, while McNeil will retain ownership of the brand and have
commercial responsibility for worldwide retail and foodservice sales. The
agreement includes the transfer of McNeil’s Alabama plant to Tate
“The new realignment will build our Splenda brand by maximizing
global opportunities in retail and foodservice,” said Vrian Perkins, worldwide
chairman of McNeil parent company Johnson & Johnson. “McNeil Nutritionals will
focus resources on marketing to consumers and healthcare professionals, while
Tate & Lyle will provide outstanding supply-side capabilities to the food and
HFCS Fights Back
Makers of high fructose
corn syrup and the companies that use the sweetener are disputing a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggesting
a link between HFCS and obesity.
The debate focuses on the way the body processes sugar. Fructose,
the researchers said, does not stimulate responses in hormones, and thus is
more likely than table sugar to be converted into fat.
The National Soft Drink Association’s Vice President of Scientific
and Technical Affairs Richard Adamson responded to the report, saying, “Suggesting
that people are somehow fatter today because soft drinks and food and dairy
products are sweetened with HFCS instead of sucrose, or table sugar, is totally
ridiculous. People are heavier today because they are taking in too many calories
and not getting enough exercise.
“The human body would not know the difference between sucrose
in a soft drink in 1960 and HFCS in a soft drink today,” Adamson said. “Sucrose
in acid media like soft drinks converts to glucose and fructose. Therefore,
when soft drinks sweetened with sucrose are consumed, they contain amounts of
glucose and fructose similar to soft drinks sweetened with HFCS.”
The industry also found itself aligned with an unusual
ally, Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest,
who often is an outspoken critic of the food industry.
“The authors of this paper misunderstand chemistry, draw erroneous
conclusions and have done a disservice to the public in generating this controversy,”
he told the Associated Press.
Naturex, Mamaroneck, N.Y., a manufacturer of natural ingredients
for the food, flavor and nutraceutical industries, has acquired Hauser and Rockland
Food Ingredients’ rosemary extracts business. Naturex says it will now benefit
from Hauser’s manufacturing and application patents (protection of citrus flavors
and co-pigmentation of anthocyanin pigments), technology and trademarks as well
as RFI’s customer base and product inventory. Naturex will offer Hauser/RFI’s
rosemary extracts through its New York and California locations.
Treatt plc, which has its U.S. headquarters in Lakeland, Fla.,
has launched a new Web site at treatt.com. The site was designed to be easy
to navigate and provide rapid information on the company, its products and services.
Information includes product listings, frequently asked questions, investor
relations, ingredient development news and technical articles.
Piscataway, N.J., recently received Ocean
Spray’s Specialty Award for
exceptional service. This is the second time Robertet has been given the
award for customer service, effective business solutions and technical
The company also announced it has named Gary Link senior key
accounts executive. Diana Furey has been promoted to group leader of the flavor
applications laboratory, Laurie Angley has been named group leader of flavor
development and Sharon Rubin has been named flavorist.
John Fenstermacher has joined Purac America, Lincolnshire, Ill.,
as senior market development specialist in food and general sales.
Schokinag Chocolate North America Inc., Bakersfield, Calif.,
has appointed Karen White vice president of sales for chocolate and cocoa ingredients.
Danisco Flavors predicts the low-carb trend will
continue for some time as consumers increase their awareness of what they
are eating. The company has created a low-carb orange juice alternative
that combines citrus flavors and other ingredients for one-third fewer
carbohydrates than regular orange juice with the same nutrients and natural
taste consumers expect. — Danisco USA,
201 New Century Parkway, New Century, Kansas 66031; 913/764-8100;
Symrise is able to create a range of isotonic beverages
for multiple target markets. While "tweens" like to emulate older
teen consumers, their flavor and color preferences are very different. In
addition, the functional qualities of isotonics have changed.
"It’s a challenge to come up with flavors that are compatible
with these new isotonic formulations that are targeted to specific groups, but
at Symrise, we have managed to do just that," says Tom Sutherland, new business
development manager for the beverage business unit. — Symrise, 300 North Street,
Teterboro, N.J. 07608; 201/288-3200; Symrise.com
Robertet has introduced a new pomegranate flavor. The
fruit, which contains crimson-colored, sweet-tart pulp, is one of
today’s trendiest foods. Robertet’s flavor applications include
beverages, tea blends, yogurts, fruit snacks, fruit preps and more. — Robertet Flavors, 10 Colonial Drive, Piscataway,
N.J. 08854; 732/981-8300; Robertet.com
Highly Bioavailable Calcium
Purac America recently announced a study published by
the TNO Nutrition and Food Research Institute indicates its Purcal calcium
sources were shown to be highly bioavailable in post-menopausal women. The
study compared true calcium absorption of six different calcium sources,
and Purcal calcium lactate and Purcal calcium lactate gluconate were shown
to be good sources for food fortification. —
Purac America Inc., 111 Barclay Blvd., Lincolnshire, Ill. 60069;