Richard Livermore Written by Richard Livermore

Sugar Versus Alternative Sweeteners

Natural & Artificial Sweeteners

Alternative sweeteners cannot perform or replicate all the many functions of natural sugar.

In 2014, sugar confectionery sales dropped for the very first time, with sweeteners and sugar replacements growing in prominence. However, the sugar-free confectionery market is still relatively small.

With ongoing concerns about the reduction of sugar in the diet, many observers believe that the sugar-free confectionery market should be booming. This primarily due to ongoing technical developments that have improved sensory properties, and the appearance of new sweeteners and other ingredients with a more natural image. However, sugar-free lines accounted for less than 7 percent of global confectionery launches recorded by Innova Insights in 2014, which is a similar penetration level to that in 2013. Sugar-free launches represented just 1 percent of chocolate confectionery introductions, rising to 7.5 percent in sugar confectionery and to over 63 percent in chewing gum.

Just over 1 percent of confectionery launches in 2014 featured stevia as an ingredient, which was similar level to that in food and drinks as a whole, but behind the levels of use in soft drinks and tabletop sweeteners, for example. “Formulation problems and the bitter after-taste of stevia are felt to have held back product activity in some instances,” notes Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights. “However, some sectors have found this less of an issue, particularly liquorice sweets and medicated confectionery, and improved formulations are now being introduced to allow more products in other areas. The confectionery industry has been perhaps slower to take on stevia sweeteners than originally forecast, and it remains to be seen how take-up will develop over the next few years”, Williams adds.

Weighing in on the debate, Ben Eastick, director of Ragus Sugars – pure sugar and syrup specialists – makes the case for his company’s core product: “Sugar has been around since the dawn of time and remains the ‘gold standard’ sweetener by which all others are compared, whilst also a natural product”. He continues, “Unlike sweeteners (including natural fruit derived sweeteners), there are few chemicals used to process sugar-and the ones that are would not be deemed as harmful. These may include carbon or milk of lime, for example, and they do not remain in the finished product”.

Ben Eastick

Ben Eastick, Marketing Director of Ragus Sugars.

“No other sweetening alternative can perform or replicate all the functions that sugar can: namely sweetening, colour development, flavour, bulking, and moisture retention, which allows products to remain fresher and more stable for longer. Sugar also eats bacteria, stabilising products. Ragus actually makes a lot of sugar products that go into the dietary industry where sugar is used as a bulking component to replace fat”.

There has been a fair amount of negative press coverage on sugar in recent times, but Eastick believes that this is nothing new, as the same had also occurred in the 70s and 80s. He explains: “Despite criticism, there is a lot of misinformation about sugar in the press, particularly in relation to fructose. Fructose derived from wheat or maize easily converts to fat, and also suppresses the action of a hormone called lecithin. This hormone tells the brain when the fat cells have had enough carbohydrate, so it is better to have sugar as the lecithin is not suppressed with sucrose”. He adds: “If you take sugar out of food products and replace it with a sweetener like stevia, you need to add polyols for bulk, and the recipe ends up being less natural and more expensive. The future is about moderation in our intake, and educating people the true facts. Eventually, the consumer will wise up, just as they did with the butter versus margarine debate”.

A recent report states that sugar does not cause a ‘sugar rush’ in children after all, and Eastick concludes that a teaspoon of sugar contains only 16 calories-which is actually less than a carrot.

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