Stevia could help ready-to-eat cereal manufacturers reduce the sugar content in their products without affecting taste, according to stevia-derived sweetener manufacturer PureCircle.
Cereal manufacturers have been making efforts to cut sugar in cereals as they respond to consumer demand for lower-sugar cereals, particularly those marketed to children.
This week, General Mills announced that it intends to cut sugar content in its cereals advertised on children’s media outlets to single gram per serving levels, and other cereal makers have made similar moves. Kellogg’s cut sugar in cereals including Froot Loops and Apple Jacks to 12g or less per serving last year, and Post says it has cut the sugar by 20 percent in its Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Pebbles, both of which now contain 11g per serving.
But the challenge for manufacturers is to reduce sugar content without changing the flavor to such an extent that consumers stop buying their product.
Marketing Director of PureCircle USA Jason Hecker told FoodNavigator-USA.com that Reb A – the high intensity sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia plant – could provide a solution, by replacing up to a quarter of the sugar in a product without affecting overall sweetness.
The ten-gram threshold
“I think you are going to see a number of manufacturers focus on getting below the ten grams of sugar threshold,” Hecker said. “…Kraft, General Mills and others face pressure about marketing directed to kids, about products that may not be healthy…By reducing the grams of sugar in their products they open themselves up to the opportunity to be able to market more broadly to kids and really open up their products.”
He said that PureCircle has developed a frosted flake-type product, for example, that has a good coating and flavor, using its PureVia brand Reb A.
“Sugar has other benefits for manufacturers, like stopping the product from going soggy. But for products like cereal, in which we get a 25 percent reduction, it [stevia] can bring you under the threshold,” he said.
Another potential benefit with stevia is that unlike many other sweeteners that could be used to cut sugar, it is a natural ingredient, meaning that as long as the other ingredients in a product are natural, manufacturers can continue to use that claim.
“Stevia and sugar work particularly well together when you do blends,” said Hecker. “And you can still have a natural claim.”
The pressure on manufacturers to reduce sugar content reached a new peak in October when the Smart Choices front-of-pack labeling program was dropped. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had said it would investigate the program following widespread criticism that several sugar-laden cereals, including General Mills Cocoa Puffs and Kellogg’s Fruit Loops, were deemed to qualify for the scheme.
“The pressures that drove Smart Choices aren’t going away,” said Hecker.
Interest in stevia’s potential across many food and drink categories has surged since the FDA issued its first letters of no objection that Reb A is GRAS (generally recognized as safe) in December last year.