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Interview, James Blunt, senior VP, product management and marketing, Tate & Lyle

Finding the sweet spot: Sucralose in an evolving sweeteners market

By Elaine Watson , 11-Apr-2012
Last updated on 11-Apr-2012 at 15:44 GMT2012-04-11T15:44:33Z

Tate & Lyle's re-opened sucralose plant in McIntosh, Alabama
Tate & Lyle's re-opened sucralose plant in McIntosh, Alabama

It’s not as sexy as stevia, and not as cheap as aspartame, but sucralose continues to press food formulators’ buttons, and demand is still growing – fast - says market leader Tate & Lyle.

The firm, which clearly has faith in its own marketing given that it has just re-opened its Alabama sucralose manufacturing facility after a two-year hiatus, says demand is being driven by two factors.

First, says senior VP, product management and marketing, James Blunt, is the growing need to respond to spiraling rates of obesity and type II diabetes with solutions enabling manufacturers to create lower calorie products that do not send consumers’ blood sugar levels into the stratosphere.

The rising price of sugar

The second is the rising price of sugar, he says.

“We have seen a really strong demand for sucralose as a substitute sweetening agent as sugar prices have escalated. But it also offers key advantages over some other sweeteners in terms of taste and process stability.

“It is extremely flavor synergistic with sugar and high fructose corn syrup so it really is the optimal solution for mid-calorie beverages such as Pepsi NEXT [which contains HFCS, aspartame, ace K and sucralose].

“It also works well with fructose in fruit-based applications.”

Heat stability: We saw a marked increase in launches in the southern hemisphere

Meanwhile, its heat stability - sucralose maintains its sweetness through pasteurization, sterilization, UHT processing and baking and remains stable in foods throughout extended periods of storage – means it can be used in a broader range of applications than aspartame.

It is also growing in popularity in hot countries as it maintains its sweetness in hot conditions for longer periods, he says.

We saw a marked increase in launches in 2010 in the southern hemisphere where customers were really focusing on its functional benefits. We also see it becoming the sweetener of choice in gum globally.

“There’s also no need to overdose to ensure it stays sweet throughout the shelf life. You can be very precise on dosing."

He adds: “It works particularly well in soups, sauces and dressings, dissolves easily in water and doesn’t foam. It is also well suited to masking the bitterness of super fruits such as goji berries.”

Formulations, brands and markets

Customers take a variety of approaches when experimenting with sweeteners, he says. For new products, or private-label applications, switching can be more straightforward, providing the formulation is good.

For large branded products that have built up a loyal following, firms often introduce a line extension to test the waters.

Others will leave the core brand alone in major markets but change the formulation in smaller ones, he says.

“Or you’ll see it vary by climate. Some brands have retained their original formulas in the US and Europe but use sucralose in Asia and Latin America, so you’ll get aspartame/ace K combination in one market and a sucralose/ace K combination in another.”

Getting the right dose

In common with all intense sweeteners, the potency of sucralose in foods varies depending on the concentration used and the other ingredients present (fats, acids etc), making the right dosage critical, says Blunt.

“It’s not a case of just saying it’s 600 times sweeter than sugar so I need to use this much. Dosages must be application-specific, and we have experts that know exactly what the right acid combinations are and can help customers dose correctly.”

The whole package

It’s here Tate & Lyle can really offer something above and beyond Chinese competitors, claims Blunt, who says “selling a white powder in a bag” is not the way to get the most out of a sweetener, whether it is sucralose, stevia or anything else.

All customers want the best price, along with security of supply, safety, quality and regulatory assurances (that it doesn’t infringe patents, for example), he says.

But they also want a finished product that delivers on texture, taste, and nutrition, and Tate & Lyle – which sells a suite of sweetener blends and other ingredients from soluble glucofibers to polydextrose, polyols and various bulking agents - can help them achieve these goals, and save money, he says.

What matters is not cost per kilo but cost in use.”

Natural vs artificial sweeteners

But could the rise of natural sweeteners ultimately kill off sucralose, which is still being targeted by lobby groups convinced the chlorination process used in its production is risky, despite its clean bill of health from regulatory agencies across the globe?

Not surprisingly, Blunt thinks not.

While ‘artificial’ sweeteners lack the sex appeal of stevia and Tate & Lyle’s own monk fruit-based sweetener Purefruit, there will still be a place for multiple sweeteners because they all have different qualities, he predicts.

“There are still real challenges around the taste of stevia, and although monk fruit has a great taste profile, it is still a premium product. And while some customers are switching from aspartame because of negative perceptions, we have always been clear aspartame is a good ingredient.

“We have a position in the artificial and natural sweeteners market and we believe there is plenty of room for both for the foreseeable future.”

Click here to read about the competition.

Click here to read about the re-opening of Tate & Lyle's Alabama plant.

Click here to see our picture gallery from Alabama.

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