You must have noticed that sugar is the new bogeyman in food and drink these days. As a business that works closely with a number of clients for whom sugar is an important ingredient this is a development we’ve been keeping a close eye on. The #sugarbad campaign has been picking up momentum in recent months and doesn’t look like running out of steam anytime soon, this is both a threat and an opportunity though.
The most obvious opportunity in this is of course brand variants or new products altogether. The soft drinks industry has embraced ‘sugar-free’ for a long time now, so much so that ‘diet’ and ‘light’ versions are ubiquitous. The food industry has been slower off the mark though. For a wide variety of reasons replacing sugar with a different ‘sweetener’ can be technically challenging and it doesn’t always produce the same results. Likewise removing sugar, even partially, from a lot of products would be very unpopular with consumers. The challenge is finding that balance between reduced sugar content or replaced sugar content whilst maintaining the integrity of the product.
The industry has risen to these challenges before. Over the years various ingredients have been banned, become scarce or gone out of fashion for a variety reasons and products have evolved or new products have emerged. I was eating lunch in a north of Scotland service station last week (yes, the glamour, I know) and my colleague purchased a confectionery bar made from fruit and it was sweet as anything I’d ever tasted. It contained no added sugar. So the evolution has already begun and should only pick up speed.
Of course manufacturers have to pick up the costs involved in R&D, new packaging, changes to working practices, machinery and the man-hours it takes up to develop a new product. That’s not without its risks but I’m not sure there’s an alternative now. Of course in 20 years time no doubt some new ‘science’ will emerge to prove that sugar is in fact good for you. In between times though an alternative strategy is required.