Sugar Reduction in Latin America: Industry Challenges and Solutions

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Consumers want less sugar in food and beverage products. This creates a challenge for manufacturers that want to produce healthy yet tasty food alternatives

KerryDigest Fast Facts:
  • Latin American consumers, like those around the world, want products with less sugar.
  • This shift is largely due to health concerns, such as the those related to obesity.
  • Governments are driving sugar reduction in Latin America through taxes and awareness campaigns, and manufacturers are stepping up to the challenge.
  • Getting the right taste and texture is one challenge for manufacturers launching new and reformulated products.

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KerryDigest Full Scoop:

Just like much of the rest of the world, there’s a trend toward sugar reduction in Latin America. Consumers have grown to enjoy and expect sweet tastes, but they’re also increasingly concerned about the negative health impacts of sugar, some of which are in plain sight: data from the World Health Organization suggests that 58% of Latin Americans are overweight and 23% are obese.

sugar reduction in Latin Americawoman drinking sugary beverage

However, having foods and beverages that deliver good sweet taste is still an important value for Latin Americans, and sugar often plays an important role in product formulations. This creates a challenge for the food and beverage industry: how to deliver products that deliver the taste Latin American consumers want and expect while also reducing sugar levels and increasing nutrition.


Sweet preference leads to health problems
We’ve recently reported on changing taste preferences in Latin America, and especially in Brazil, where consumers are increasingly open to trying new and novel flavours as well as international cuisine. But in many parts of the region taste preferences still lean toward sweet, even if consumers want less sugar.

Albert McQuaid, Kerry Global Chief Technology Officer, got to the root of the problem in a recent KerryDigest article when he said, “Over time, humans have adapted and become accustomed to flavour profiles with excess sugar, excess fat and excess salt. When consumers want to move back to a healthier diet, it’s very difficult.”

To maintain good health, the WHO recommends sugar make up less than 10% of a person’s daily ingested calories, or around 50 grams of sugar per day. This includes table sugar, sugars in processed foods and natural sugars such as those found in honey, syrups, fruit juices and juice concentrates.

However, not all consumption falls within this range. According to the Brazilian Health Ministry, for example, the average Brazil consumer ingests roughly 80 grams of sugar each day. Although one estimate suggests around 64% of this is added to food during meals and 36% is found in processed products, there is plenty of room for food manufacturers to improve the nutrition of their goods.

Government regulations take aim at sugar content
Lifestyle changes, consumer behaviour, international pressure, fiscal policies, health campaigns and brand image have all contributed to the current pressure on the industry to reduce sugar in food and beverage products.

Amongst the most publicised push is that of governmental regulation. There are various examples over the last decade where governments have introduced policies to control sugar content in processed foods, including but not limited to sugar taxes.

In 2018, various institutions in the food industry, including the Brazilian Association of Food and Beverage Industry, signed an agreement with the Brazilian Health Ministry and Anvisa (the national sanitary surveillance agency) to eliminate 144,000 tonnes of sugar from industrialized food products by 2022 throughout Brazil.

Similar and additional strategies are at work throughout the region. Chile has, among other actions, introduced warning labels on foods with excessive salt, sugar and fats. Mexico is seeking to establish more stringent regulations following the country’s 2014 introduction of sugar taxes: in August of 2019 the Mexican Health Ministry announced they would implement harsher regulations for processed foods while also encouraging a balanced diet in schools. These strategies will be executed in a variety of ways, including through imposing strict advertising laws as well as the introduction of new front-of-pack labels on processed foods and beverages.

Our research suggests such packaging updates may help consumers make healthier choices. In 2018, Kerry conducted the study “Consumers and the Clean Label” in six Latin American countries. Consumers were surveyed on preferred product attributes: for 34% of respondents “low sugar” was the most sought after claim on a product label. Additionally, over half of all consumers surveyed said they regularly analysed sugar content on product nutritional charts.

Manufacturers seek out sweet sugar-reducing solutions
As a result of changing regulations and growing consumer awareness, we’ve seen an increase in requests from brands wanting to modify existing products or create new low-sugar foods and beverages. The challenge is often finding the right balance between lowering sugar content while also maintaining flavour. Preserving the initial characteristics of the product is no easy feat. Sugar has unique chemical properties and has an important role in texture, viscosity, mouthfeel and, of course, sweetness and aromatic properties.

pouring maple syrup on granolasugar reduction quote

Our local and global teams regularly conduct research in order to develop technologies that fulfil the needs of food and beverage manufacturers while also pleasing consumer palettes and demands. Taste modulation is one such option—our TasteSense products use natural flavouring to reduce sugar while retaining its inherent benefits.

Through careful reformulation and product creation, and by helping educate consumers on nutrition and positive product attributes, food brands can join the effort to reduce sugar content and improve public health. In the current social climate, the best products will be those which are able to merge balanced and indulgent flavours, while also providing a positive consumer experience.

To learn more about our work on sugar reduction, including our TasteSense line of taste modulation products, contact us.

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