Kill Cliff exec shares challenges in marketing specialty carbohydrates in age of sugar reduction

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

The new sports drink line Endure was launched earlier this month at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, CA.
The new sports drink line Endure was launched earlier this month at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, CA.
Atlanta-based Kill Cliff, a sports beverage brand focusing on clean label formulations, launched a new line of sports drinks called Endure, which features a slow-burning specialty carbohydrate, at the Natural Products Expo West show. However, the carbohydrate may be a double-edged sword…

Nearly half of US consumers are trying to reduce the sugar they consume, according to a survey​ by Leatherhead Food Research. Meanwhile, food and beverage manufacturers are racing to reduce sugar​ in their products.

With that in mind, the 24g of sugar per 20 fl oz bottle listed on Endure’s​ Nutrition Facts panel may scare off some consumers, but it shouldn't, according to Jerry Barker, VP of operations at Kill Cliff​.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, CA earlier this month, Barker said: There is a race among manufacturers to reduce traditional sugar usage in their products and we feel that is the right direction for manufacturers and consumers. We at Kill Cliff care about what goes in the bodies of our consumers and we continue to support that trend across the industry.

“However, we do not feel that we are at a disadvantage because we do not nor will we put traditional sugars in our products,” ​he argued. 

The sugar that goes into the product, he added, is a branded version of isomaltulose, called Palatinose, manufactured by Beneo, which received a no-objections letter from the FDA back in 2006​ to its ‘Generally Recognized as Safe’ or GRAS, determination.

A slow-burning carb for sustained energy

“[Palatinose] is a slow-burning, low-glycemic carb source derived from non-GMO beets,”​ Barker explained.

Further Reading


Last year, Kill Cliff won the attention of emerging brands accelerator Sunrise Strategic Partners​, which made a minority investment in the Atlanta-based company. READ MORE

“What it does is it burns in the small intestine, it’s got a 32-glycemic index, which is incredibly low, and it doesn’t spike your insulin. So what happens is, in a traditional work out, you instantly burn your glucose supply—that’s where you get most of your energy. And once that’s gone, you start crashing."

The use of the specialty carbohydrate in the beverage means that users may experience a sustained boost of energy. Hence, Endure is being positioned as a ‘pre- and during-’ workout drink.

The new line launched complements Kill Cliff’s existing portfolio line of recovery drinks, touted as a cleaner-labeled sports drink with vitamins, natural extracts, and no sugar. It is instead sweetened with stevia and erythritol.

Meanwhile, the Endure line is sweetened with monk fruit extract, as Palatinose itself, though considered a sugar, does not offer much sweetness.

Not all carbohydrates are the same, and not all sugars are the same

The low-glycemic nature of Palatinose means it does not come with the same health concerns as traditional sugar, according to Jon Peters, president of the US-subsidiary Beneo Inc.

“The challenge is in communicating about quality of carbohydrates to the consumer,”​ he said.

“Carbohydrate quality matters for a healthier diet, yet not all carbohydrates are the same and not all sugars are the same. Even though from a food chemistry point of view, they are categorized together, their physiological effects can be very different…Quality of carbohydrates is very important for health, thus replacing high glycemic carbohydrates with low glycemic carbohydrates is a step in the right direction.

“Since this is a low glycemic sugar, it is a healthy source of carbohydrate energy for the body. Palatinose is low glycemic and slowly released into the body for energy, which is a benefit for everybody,”​ he told FoodNavigator-USA.

“There is sufficient convincing evidence that following a carbohydrate-based diet with lower impact on blood glucose levels will reduce the risk for developing metabolic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity,”​ he added, citing a 2015study​ published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases.

“Small changes in daily life like replacing high glycemic sugars with low glycemic options like Palatinose are contributing enormously to health.”

Palatinose in the US market

Barker said that Endure is the first ready-to-drink product to feature Palatinose.

There are currently over 40 products in the US market that use the carbohydrate, the major categories being performance or energy beverages, special nutrition (such as for pregnant women or diabetic populations), and meal replacements, Peters said.

“Meal replacement and special nutrition companies are the biggest customer types, while significant growth opportunities are in sports nutrition,”​ Peters said.

Both Peters and Barker believed teamwork is required between finished product companies and ingredient suppliers to raise the awareness of specialty carbohydrates among consumers.

Beyond marketing material and educational text on Kill Cliff’s social media, website, and product packaging, the brand is supporting Beneo’s appearances at different nutrition conferences, such as FNCE last year and the upcoming Today’s Dietician Symposium in Austin, TX in May.

“During this event, dieticians will get a bottle of Kill Cliff Endure to consume prior to participating in a Kill Cliff hosted workout. This will provide first-hand awareness of the product effectiveness to the most prolific experts in the nutrition industry,”​ Barker said.

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Carbohydrates cause cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

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