Sugar Reduction Approaches

Originally Published: September 7, 2018
Last Updated: February 4, 2021
A sign showing some strategy options for sugar reduction. Options shown include stability, target, retrenchment, achievable, teamwork, education, growth and yield.

Many questions are raised before innovation begins in a process such as sugar reduction, including: How do you grow in emerging markets? How do you get smart from the beginning? What features should you include? What products will let you compete? How can we lean on local partners but assure quality? Susan Mayer, MSc, CFS, Innovation Advisor with RTI International, discussed these questions as she began her presentation titled “An Innovative Approach to Sugar Reduction.”

Anchoring her presentation on an approach by RTI International, she explained that the non-profit research institute uses a Desirability Feasibility Viability (DFV) Framework to identify intersections at which innovation is found, as it provides solutions across the supply chain and frames the challenge throughout the innovation process.

Susan Mayer, MS, CFS, Innovation Advisor with RTI International, Research Triangle, NC, in her 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference Presentation

During the Desirability phase, the needs of the end-user and customer are understood. The product may be sold to a customer, who may not be the ultimate consumer, thus leading to the following: What are the perceived real benefits for the customer and the user? What drives purchase decisions for products?

In looking at Feasibility, what are physical, biological, contextual and environmental requirements? In early development stages, you’re looking a little more broadly than simply whether you can make the product in your plant. How can you learn from others who have made something similar? Also, how might products, partners and expertise be leveraged? Viability involves identification of the market opportunity and business model to grow and scale an innovation. That is, ask yourself who the consumer is and what do they want? What is the consumer willing to pay? Can you make it? Should you make it? Will the new product give you a unique advantage over the competitor, or is the new product going to cannibalize an existing product?

In looking specifically at sugar reduction, understanding the Desirability challenges requires understanding what aspects or definitions of “sugar reduction” are important to consumers. Consumers may associate certain brands with higher sugar, which may open the pathway for a new brand, perhaps with emerging ingredients. Those wanting lower grams of sugar might be satisfied with smaller serving or package sizes.

Consumers wanting “no added sugar” may give rise to products made with fruit flavors, which often provide by sweet flavor and sweet-related taste. Products made with ingredients providing perceived-to-be-healthy benefits along with sweetness may include the addition of fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) that can be labeled as probiotics, or those containing fiber, such as inulin. Consumers may simply want reduced sugar—requiring bulk replacement, plus other formula adjustments to maintain taste and texture.

In considering Feasibility, the product developer must determine whether the product is manufacturable and where it can be made. If the equipment isn’t available, can more equipment be leased, or can the product be co-packed elsewhere? Food safety and stability are also critical and must be addressed.

At the Viability stage, the question becomes: Should we make this? Can ingredients, packaging and the process be adjusted so the product’s viable cost meets the price point? In addition, can the product get from production to distribution to the consumer at the desired shelflife?

For example, in assessing the DFV Framework of a product such as Wella Chilled Organic Protein Bars (see sidebar “Eight Sweeteners, One Anti-Sweetener”), there are challenges in all aspects, including the target market, product texture and market competition. Is the product meeting consumer needs? Can the product be placed where they want or expect to find it? The refrigerated protein bars claim of “wild flower honey” listed on the front of the package may appeal to consumers who prefer high-end honey products.

Applying Framework balance is key. Take smart, early steps; “fail fast,” then adjust, suggests Mayer. Leverage partners to fill skill or resource gaps. The DFV Framework allows the product developer to look at things more objectively. Are the pieces balanced or is more emphasis placed in one direction more than another?

Ultimately, consumers will decide what is desirable, but the product has to be feasible and the business must be viable to achieve success.

“An Innovative Approach to Sugar Reduction,” Susan Mayer, MS, CFS, Innovation Advisor with RTI International, Research Triangle, NC

This presentation was given at the 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference. To download presentations from this event, go to:

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