What can be done to minimize the impact of rising sweetener prices on ice cream cost?

Sweeteners in conventional ice cream compositions include carbohydrates such as sucrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn sweeteners (HFCS) and, in some cases, maltodextrins. Sweetener functionality includes providing sweetness, low cost solids, water immobilization, freezing point management, positive eating characteristics and enhanced heat-shock resistance.

The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations allows the use of all safe and suitable sweeteners in ice cream and other frozen desserts. That makes possible the achievement of cost reduction through the use of non-traditional sweetening systems.

Historically, sweetener-related cost reduction became possible with the development of alternative, lower-cost carbohydrates such as corn syrup, HFCS and maltodextrins.  Considerations involved in the use of such ingredients included the need to maintain key product properties such as sweetness, other flavor elements, body and texture. 

In the past few years, variations in sweetener pricing have occurred. Thus, the rules of engagement relative to achieving cost reduction by managing sweetener usage have changed as well. At the same time, the industry is giving more consideration to the use of non-traditional ingredients. As a result, novel approaches to sweetener use and functionality are now possible. Although the classical formulation rules of thumb still apply, these new approaches can provide even greater opportunities for cost reduction and product improvement.

Identifying novel and significant cost savings opportunities involves consideration of the concept of “cost per unit sweetness” (CUS).  Every sweetener, whether conventional or high intensity, has a theoretical sweetness. That is a value that represents the contribution of a given ingredient to perceived sweetness compared to that of sucrose, which is arbitrarily given a sweetness of 1.0. In addition, sweeteners have a variable cost per pound. From theoretical sweetness and cost per dry pound, the CUS of any given sweetener can be calculated by dividing the cost per pound by the equivalent sweetness value. For example, a high-intensity sweetener with an equivalent sweetness value of 200 (i.e., 200 times the sweetness of sucrose) and a cost of $15 per pound would have a CUS of $15 ÷ 200 = $0.075.  

The CUS for some high-intensity sweeteners is now less than that for sucrose and other alternative sweeteners.  That makes them highly attractive as economical sources of sweetness.  It is therefore appropriate to consider extending the application of these materials from their traditional use in sugar-modified products (e.g., no sugar added or sugar free) to being used in combination with classical carbohydrate sweeteners in conventional ice creams.

 A key element of that concept involves the need to replace the bulking effect that is lost when the level of conventional sweeteners is reduced. That brings into play the use of bulking agents such as maltodextrins, which provide little sweetness. 

A significant impact of the partial replacement of conventional systems with high-intensity sweeteners is to increase freezing point. If managed properly, this can have a desirable effect on texture stability by reducing the average initial size of ice crystals through increasing the amount of water frozen in the freezer, where conditions are most favorable to the formation of small ice crystals. Increasing freezing point also reduces the amount of water involved in melting and freezing during any given episode of heat shock, which reduces the rate of growth of ice crystals during distribution and storage.

For example, in a typical 10% fat ice cream composition, reducing sucrose by 25%, replacing the sweetness lost with a high-intensity sweetener and using maltodextrin to maintain total solids would increase freezing point by about 0.5 degrees F. That would increase the amount of water frozen at a typical exit temperature by about 10% and reduce the amount of water involved in any given heat shock episode by the same degree. Both those effects represent a positive influence on texture quality of the product when it reaches the consumer. In addition, the managed use of maltodextrin for bulking could have an additional positive effect on reducing ice crystal growth and adding to mouth feel via a contribution to water immobilization.

Thus, the use of blends of high-intensity sweeteners with conventional sweetener systems can produce significant cost savings and at the same time provide improved product properties.

For more on working with “cost per unit sweetness,” its application in ice creams and more on ice cream economics, join Dr. Bruce Tharp and Dr. Steven Young at “Tharp & Young on Ice Cream Technical Short Course, Workshops and Clinics,” Dec. 1-3, 2010, Las Vegas. For more information, go to www.onicecream.com or call 610/975-4424 or 281/596-9603.