Califia Farms balances demands for sugar reduction with desire for a touch of sweetness

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

As the war on sugar gains momentum, plant-based beverage company Califia Farms is cutting back the sugar content across its product portfolio by 40% while still offering consumers who want something sweet options that are more in-line with World Health Organization recommendations for added sugar consumption.

“For too long people were just not paying attention to the amount of sugar we are consuming,”​ and as a result, many people consumed too much added sugar, registered dietitian Ashley Koff told FoodNavigator-USA at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Chicago in October.

But, she added at the Califia Farms’ booth, that is starting to change as more consumers talk about the risks of too much added sugar and look for products, such as those created by Califia Farms, which have either no or less added sugar.

However, for this shift to become a sustainable change, products still need to taste good – otherwise consumers will eventually fall back into their “all sugar all the time”​ habits, Koff said, which is why she advocates moderation – something Califia Farms broad range of products with varying levels of sweetness supports.

Koff explained: “I see headlines like, ‘Sugar will kill you,’ [but] sugar is actually the body’s preferred form of brain fuel and energy, so without sugar the body doesn’t run better.”

So, she added, “we have to distinguish between different types of sugar … and what we want to think about with added sugar and what I focus on as a dietician is letting people know a little bit of added sugar in most instances, from a health standpoint, is going to be totally fine.”

By a “little,”​ Koff said she means the World Health Organization’s recommendations about six teaspoons of added sugar a day, which gives consumers flexibility around how they “spend it.”

To help consumers avoid going over-budget on added sugar, Koff said she challenges companies, like Califia, “to look at what is on your label, how much in a serving size are you offering of added sugar, because the reality is we have no problem if someone wants to make their coffee, pour their almond milk in and put a teaspoon of sugar in there. But, you know, some of the serving sizes that people are consuming, the products have as many as four or five teaspoons at one time, and that is just too much added sugar.”

For Califia’s part, the company has been trying to provide consumers this flexibility and meet their demand for lower sugar in two ways, April Siler, a spokeswoman for the company, said.

“First of all, we have increased the amount of unsweetened products with zero added sugar that we have in our portfolio. So, for consumers who are avoiding all added sugar, we have a really wide range of our unsweetened almond milks through to our creamers. We have Better Half unsweetened and then we have no added sugar cold brew coffee blended with almond milk,”​ she said.

The second way Califia is approaching the discussion is to reduce the sugar content in its entire portfolio, Siler said.

“In under three years we have reduced the sugar content in our product portfolio by 40%. So, that means each and every single product has taken its sugar level down. So, we are really finding that balance of naturally sweet with less added sugar,”​ she said.

Siler added one of the highlights from FNCE is Califia’s Better Half products, which is one of the company’s highest growth lines at the moment and which is unsweetened but also “rich and creamy”​ from the coconut cream so it still “is really delivering this delicious coffee experience.”

While Koff touted the progress Califia and others made in reducing sugar, she also acknowledged there is a long way to go in packaged foods overall.

For example, she said, “one of the areas I look at are things like dressings and breads and crackers and sauces that you wouldn’t think [have added sugar] but they actually provide a lot of added sugar – especially for the quantity you are consuming.”

She also challenged companies not to use artificial sweeteners to replace sugar as they “are not really going to help the body run better.”

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