By Tammy Reinhart, Tate & Lyle

Now more than ever, consumers are demanding more information about the foods and beverages they consume. From 2012 to 2016, Americans ranked the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredients list as the number two and three things, respectively, they look at when deciding on a food and beverage purchase (expiration date ranks first). This is according to the IFIC 2016 Food and Health Survey.

The Nutrition Facts label update reinforces the transformation that has been in progress across the industry, and is expected to continue as a result of consumers demanding more options to make informed choices that fit their health goals. Dairy processors need to consider  several unique formulation challenges  as the label changes. 

1. Reduce calories by removing fat

One of the more significant changes to the label is an emphasis on total calories. Over the past year, 54% of Americans claim they have cut back on full-fat dairy and replaced it with low-/no-fat alternatives. Recognizing fat content tends to be a primary contributor of total calories in dairy products, manufacturers must first evaluate how fat plays a role in the overall formulation.  

Fat offers many benefits to dairy formulations, such as texture, volume and bulk. In the past, formulators have looked to other ingredients, such as starches, hydrocolloids and fibers, to recreate the texture and mouthfeel of fat. However, one key attribute that fat provides in dairy is flavor, and delivering a taste similar to the full-fat product can be challenging.

2. Taste is still king

While we know consumers are looking for better-for-you options, taste is still the most important factor to them. In fact, 84% of Americans say that taste is the No. 1 consideration when purchasing foods and beverages. Many dairy formulators use sugars to enhance flavor in reduced-fat dairy products.

However, with a new “added sugars” line to the label, many manufacturers can expect to be tasked with the challenge to further reduce the total amount of sugars in formulations without compromising taste. Employing “sweetener synergies” enables formulators to deliver the best of both worlds: healthier and tastier dairy products.

3. Explore alternative sweetening solutions

When formulating dairy products to deliver the taste consumers expect from full-fat/full-calorie products, “sweetener synergies” enable manufacturers to efficiently create low-/no-calorie and low-/no-sugar sweetener blends with the right sweetness intensity.

For example, high-potency sweeteners such as sucralose, stevia and monk fruit extract can be used in combination with sucrose or allulose, a low-calorie sugar, to reduce calories and sugar without compromising taste. However, sugar replacement is not a one-for-one exchange. (Learn more about Tate & Lyle’s sweetener portfolio here.)

4. Deliver uncompromised texture

One of the primary challenges of replacing sugar with high-intensity sweeteners in dairy products is the loss of solids, or bulk. High-intensity sweeteners can be formulated with bulking agents to make up for this loss. 

For example, when reducing the sugar in ice cream, the freeze-point depression and total solids of the finished product are altered. Bulking agents and soluble fiber sources can be used to depress the freezing point and enhance texture. 

Formulating with allulose, a low-calorie sugar, offers many benefits to frozen desserts. Allulose adds creamy mouthfeel, smooth texture, balanced sweetness, a good meltdown, and similar levels of bulk to that of sucrose. It’s ideal for reducing calories in this particular category, because its freezing point is very similar to that of caloric sugars.  

5. Labeling changes lead to holistic solutions

As the Nutrition Facts label changes, manufacturers are going to need to take a holistic look at their product to truly understand how the change might impact their product. It is even more important for manufacturers to lean on ingredient suppliers with strong dairy application expertise and an extensive portfolio of solutions to meet labeling needs without impacting functional properties. This proficiency will empower manufacturers with the right solutions to deliver healthier and tastier dairy products to consumers.

Tammy Reinhart is the senior business development manager for Tate & Lyle Food Systems. She has 17 years of experience in the stabilization of food and beverages with a specialized focus in cultured and frozen dairy applications. Reinhart received her MBA from Northern Illinois University and received her BS in food science from Purdue University.