Frank O'Kelly Written by Frank O'Kelly

Reformulating recipes: sugar’s role in providing alternatives

There are many reasons why manufacturers might opt to reformulate their product recipes, whether it be a response to costs, supply chain failures, or consumer feedback. And as a versatile product with a range of functional properties, pure sugar products can perform a key role in facilitating the formulation of foods and beverages.

What is reformulation?

Any product that is bought and sold is likely to undergo changes and improvements over the years. As consumers, we see this all the time as technology companies release the next best-selling phone model or a new car advert appears on our screens. In certain industries, these product amendments are familiar – even expected – as organisations seek to improve products and meet buyer expectations. And the food and beverage industry is no different.

Reformulation refers to an organisation’s process of changing the way they make a product. In the food and beverage industries, this could include the ingredients they use or the method by which they manufacture their goods. Sometimes the aim with reformulation is to create a product that is noticeably ‘better’ – better taste, better texture, longer-lasting. However, in most cases where manufacturers reformulate their recipes, they want the final product to be as close as possible to the original. This is what makes the subject of reformulation such an interesting one, as manufacturers experimenting with reformulation face the challenge of creating an identical product with changed ingredients and/or methodology.

So, if reformulating a product is so challenging for food and beverage manufacturers, why do they do it?

Reasons for reformulating a product

There are a number of reasons why a manufacturer might be required to reformulate a product. Sometimes reformulation will reflect consumer priorities, such as health concerns and sustainability awareness, while on other occasions it will be responding to business priorities.

One of the main factor’s that can drive a business to consider reformulating their recipes is cost. Over time, certain ingredients will inevitably increase or decrease in price, and if a manufacturer is reliant on a particularly expensive raw ingredient, they might be encouraged to seek out alternatives. Similarly, if the equipment and machinery that a company uses to produce their product proves too costly to run or maintain, this could force them inquire into alternative methods of production.

Another reason for reformulation could be issues in the supply chain. We’ve seen a lot of this in recent years as various factors including the pandemic and Brexit mean imports via land and sea are slowed or even halted. If a manufacturer requires an imported ingredient to make their product, they could be prompted to look closer to home to avoid the risk of supply chain issues holding up production.

In both these cases, the reason for reformulation is centred around business priorities, however the decision to reformulate a recipe can also be driven by consumers.

selection of ingredient icons

Consumer priorities can include seeking products that are free from certain ingredients.

Customer priorities are always changing, and manufacturers have to respond to this if their product is to survive. Health and sustainability are two growing priorities amongst food and beverage consumers, and many manufacturers are under pressure to ensure their products meet these expectations.

An example of a company that reformulated their recipe to meet consumer health priorities is PepsiCo, who changed the recipe of their Tropicana fruit juice to preserve fibre. Following increased awareness that many fruit juices were not as healthy as advertised, PepsiCo revised their production process to ensure the fibre-rich orange pith was blended in rather than filtered out, resulting in a product that retained the smoothness of the original but with greater health benefits.

Their decision to reformulate the recipe successfully responded to the health priorities of consumers without sacrificing the taste and texture of the original product.

Bottles of Tropicana orange juice are seen in a supermarket refrigerator case

PepsiCo responded to consumer demands to preserve sales of their products.

The role of sugar in reformulation

Often when people think about sugar as an ingredient, they tend to assume its primary role is to provide sweetness and flavour. However, sugar products are extremely versatile, and perform a range of other important functions in food and beverage manufacturing. This includes adding texture and mouthfeel to products, and extending the shelf-lives of goods like sauces, canned foods, and a range of beverages. Sugar is also a humectant, meaning it binds water molecules, making it a valuable ingredient for preserving moisture in products and preventing crystallisation.

The versatility of sugar products – from crystallines to syrups – and their role as a supporting ingredient in the manufacturing of a variety of goods, mean they play a crucial role in the reformulation of products.

A popular reformulation trend at the moment is the growth in plant-based products. From meat alternatives to plant-based dairy products, the demand for animal-free food and beverages has exploded in recent years. But did you know that sugar has played a key role in facilitating this?

supermarket shelves show plant-based ready meals and milk products

Sugar improves the texture and mouthfeel of plant-based products.

One of the challenges that has arisen from formulating plant-based products is achieving texture that replicates that of the original animal-based product. Whether it’s a meat-free burger or plant-based yoghurt, consumers tend to complain that the texture of these products isn’t quite right. However, sugar provides a solution for achieving desired consistency because of its humectant qualities. Invert sugar syrups in particular are popularly employed by manufacturers looking to retain moisture due to their high affinity for water. By incorporating a sugar product such as invert sugar syrup into the recipe for a plant-based burger, the water molecules are bound together creating a product that replicates the juicy texture of meat. More detail about sugar’s role in plant-based foods can be found in our previous blog on the subject.

Sugar products also play a role in reformulation that is prompted by supply chain issues. A crucial example of this is the glucose syrup shortages that have affected hundreds of manufacturers across the country. Glucose syrup – which is derived from wheat or maize – is a viscous syrup with a light, sweet taste and is one of the most popular ingredients in commercial food and beverage production. However, a number of factors including the pandemic, Brexit, and poor harvests have resulted in global shortages, prompting many manufacturers to look for alternative products. Invert sugar syrup is a viable and healthier alternative to glucose syrup 63ED. Both syrups have similar colour, flavour, and viscosity, and deliver similar functional benefits to applications, making invert sugar syrup a good alternative for manufacturers forced to reformulate their recipes in the light of production delays.

Ragus’ experiencing in consulting

With over ninety years of experience manufacturing and supplying sugar products to industry, here at Ragus we have had many organisations enquire about which sugar products would best suit them. Our customer service team have a wealth of experience in supplying pure sugar products and years of expertise to offer regarding the best formulation for your intended product.

board room shows people with laptops and notebooks in a meeting

Ragus’ consulting team can provide advice to industry.

Sugar is a product with a variety of important functions as a supporting ingredient in a range of applications. From taste, to texture, and even extending the shelf-life of products, it performs a key role in the production of goods for a number of different industries.

Ragus manufactures pure sugars for industry. To find out more about the versatile applications of sugar, visit our products page and contact a member of our customer services team (0)1753 215424 or enquiries@ragus.co.uk. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.