Although reduced-calorie yogurts and smoothies have been on the market for years, none could be labeled as ‘all natural' until Stonyfield Farm introduced its new "MOOve Over Carbs" line of yogurts last fall.
The door of opportunity opened when erythritol, the only naturally derived non-caloric bulk sugar alternative, was introduced. Erythritol occurs naturally in foods such as grapes, pears and watermelon, as well as fermented products like wine, cheese and soy sauce. It is produced commercially using a natural fermentation process.
"We've wanted to develop a lower calorie, reduced-sugar yogurt for a long time," notes Maureen Wolpert, senior product manager. "Stonyfield Farm appeals to people who are interested in managing their health, including losing or managing weight. Until erythritol, there was no way to develop a natural product with low enough sugar and calories to meet consumers' expectations. The only way to significantly reduce sugar was with aspartame or sucralose, both of which we choose not to use."
Erythritol, marketed by Cargill Food and Pharma Specialties under the trade name Eridex™, was introduced to the North American market two years ago. The all-natural/no-calorie (maximum 0.2 Kcal/g) bulk sweetener is ideal for no-sugar-added, reduced-calorie, and low-glycemic products because it has no effect on blood sugar levels.
"‘All natural' was the primary benefit erythritol offered, but we also wanted to use a sugar substitute that had a good taste," Wolpert says. "There are so many out there that don't. We also wanted one that didn't have any related digestive issues. So, for those two issues, erythritol was attractive as well."
Erythritol not only tastes good by itself, it also has beneficial effects when combined with other low-calorie sweeteners, making the sensory profile more like that of sucrose.
Because erythritol is a smaller molecule than other sugar alcohols, it is well absorbed in the upper digestive tract, providing the highest digestive tolerance of all sugar alcohols. Further, since the body doesn't convert erythritol to energy or fat, it contributes no calories.
Erythritol can be used at levels up to 3.5% in beverages and up to 10% in yogurt, smoothies and frozen dairy desserts. In addition to great taste, erythritol provides other functionalities common to sugars, including freezing point depression in ice cream. Because erythritol is stable in heat and acid, it can be used in a range of products, including compound coatings and acidic beverages.
Stonyfield Farm recently rolled out a new Light Smoothie, which is also formulated with erythritol. Available in three flavors, it has 130 calories compared to 250 for a regular smoothie. Although it is premature to get an accurate gauge on sales, the company has received feedback from consumers who are really excited about having a smoothie in the natural channel that's lower in sugar and calories.
Wolpert thinks that consumer acceptance of erythritol will continue to increase. "We hope to see it in use more often by our partners in the natural channel so that consumers can get a better familiarity with it. There is a learning curve for consumers to understand that it is something natural, that it's not like other sugar alcohols. We look forward to more of our industry partners using it and getting it more visibility as a natural ingredient."