In 2021, 72% of consumers were trying to limit or avoid sugar entirely, according to a survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC). Consuming less sugar will likely remain a key consumer goal in 2022.

Another 2021 IFIC study found that consumers look to the ingredient legend and the Nutrition Facts panel as sources of information — more so than claims. However, IFIC found that “no artificial sweeteners” was the most influential claim.

According to Mintel, “consumers largely distrust artificial sweeteners, and 69% of consumers regard them as unhealthy.”

The sweet spot

Finding the sweet spot in sugar reduction requires choosing the appropriate sweetener for the application or optimizing a blend of sweeteners. A trip to my local King Soopers revealed a wide array of natural and artificial sweeteners in dairy applications.

Just a hint of natural fruit was used to sweeten a Chobani 45% Less Sugar Greek yogurt. Sweetening dairy with real fruit can deliver a “no added sugar” claim. In the Nutrition Facts label final rule, FDA explains that whole fruit, fruit pieces, dried fruit, pulps, and purees (single-strength or concentrated) are not considered to contain “added sugars.”

Stevia is widely used in dairy applications, including Danone’s Two Good yogurt with 2 grams of sugar. Newer stevia ingredients include steviol glycosides, which are at least 150 times sweeter than sugar, and Reb M and Reb D, which are produced through fermentation and yield ingredients that are sweeter and less bitter than traditional Reb A.

“In yogurts, it is important to understand both the desired sweetness intensity from stevia and the ratio of yogurt white mass to fruit preparation,” said Wade Schmelzer, principal scientist with Cargill. “Both ViaTech stevia leaf extracts and EverSweet stevia sweetener can effectively meet the sweetness needs in this category, especially with the expanding range of sweetness seen in the yogurt case today.”

Cargill also is introducing ClearFlo, a botanical extract that in combination with other stevia ingredients can deliver improved solubility and stability in concentrates such as yogurt fruit prep — with faster dissolution and enhanced flavor characteristics.

Monk fruit is a newer addition to the dairy formulator’s toolkit and appears in the Chobani Zero Sugar yogurt. Yogurt sweetened with monk fruit has higher levels of antioxidants than yogurt sweetened with sucrose. Monk fruit can have a fruity side taste, which might work well in dairy/fruit applications.

The lactase enzyme in Kroger’s Carbmaster yogurt delivers the double punch of enabling a “lactose-free” claim and converting lactose into glucose and galactose, both sweeter sugars, thus facilitating sugar reduction.

This technology is also used in the GoodSport sports drink, which received the 2021 Breakthrough Award for Dairy Ingredient Innovation from Dairy Foods magazine.

“We don’t add any sugar; GoodSport only contains the sugar from milk,” says Michelle McBride, founder of GoodSport Nutrition. “We chose monk fruit extract and erythritol because we wanted to use only ingredients from natural sources, and the unique combination of the two provides the perfect level of sweetness for our drink.

“Consumer reaction has been incredibly positive,” she adds. “Consumers are thrilled to have a sports drink option that provides superior hydration that’s backed by science all from a natural source. There have been many success stories in terms of positive athlete reactions. GoodSport is an official hydrator of the WNBA Champions, the Chicago Sky.”

Erythritol is often paired with stevia in frozen dairy applications, as erythritol has a greater impact on freezing point depression than sucrose.

“Erythritol is a great complementary sweetener to stevia, imparting upfront sweetness, increasing sweetness intensity, and rounding out the overall sweetness profile. Although it can be effective at replacing sugar solids, other bulking agents such as inulin — or texturizers and stabilizers to manage water and prevent ice crystallization — may be necessary, depending on the extent of the sugar reduction,” says Schmelzer.

In the frozen dairy aisle, Rebel ice cream sandwiches and Keto Pint ice cream bars both are tasty lower-sugar options. Keto Pint combines erythritol with stevia, monk fruit and chicory root fiber to deliver just 1 gram of sugar in its mint chip bars.

Reduced-sugar alternatives will continue to deliver consumer appeal in the dairy aisle through 2022 and beyond.

Sharon Gerdes is a Certified Food Scientist and author who writes extensively about dairy’s role in health and wellness. Learn more at