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 well.
“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 fruit-flavored products.
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 sweeteners.
“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) and xylitol.
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,” she says.
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,” Naulty says.
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 profile.
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 & Lyle.
“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 beverage industry.”
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.
R&D News
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.
Robertet Flavors, 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 support.
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.
Creators Briefs
Low-Carb Juice
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; Danisco.com
Diverse Formulations
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
Trendy Flavor
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; 847/634-6330; Purac.com