Ashbury helps industry to balance consumer expectations and compliance demands

A leading food regulatory consultancy is supporting manufacturers in their quest to find the sweet spot between meeting consumer expectations and upholding ever-changing compliance demands regarding sugar reduction.

Ashbury finds this year, there seems to be growing concerns about the impacts of added sugar on human health, the environment and the economy – the 2023 Tetra Pak Index revealed that 40% of consumers are reporting to be cutting back on sugar.

Brigid McKevith, head of regulatory at Ashbury explains what she believes is driving this movement and what 2024 has in store: “Most of us agree that we should reduce the amounts of added sugars that we’re consuming, but we’re equally unwilling to compromise on taste. And while consumers are responsible for monitoring their own sugar intake, the onus also falls on the government, retailers, and food manufacturers to take supportive action and respond to these demands.

“In recent years, the industry has seen an increase in the introduction of sugar alternatives. This is something we’re seeing company-wide as our regulatory team is receiving more queries and undertaking increasing numbers of projects relating to the reduction of sugar. And subsequently, consumers are starting to spot a greater variety of low or no sugar options hitting our shelves from some of our favourite brands.

“Yet there’s growing controversy and confusion about the alternative sweeteners that are often being swapped in. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of universal understanding and trust – in fact, some consumers have admitted to not realising just how tightly regulated sweeteners are. This was potentially heightened by the aspartame “scare” last year (despite 90 global food safety agencies confirming that aspartame is safe to consume at current permitted use levels).

“But the majority of consumers are (whether knowingly or not) already consuming products that contain a mix of sugar and sweeteners. So, as we enter 2024, it’s important for those within the industry to collaborate to enhance understanding of sugar, its effects and its alternatives, bringing an end to any misconceptions. Long-term, these actions should ensure that the perceptions of both sugar and sugar reduction are entirely understood, allowing consumers to make fully informed decisions about food that is safe and wholesome, and that aligns with their diet, lifestyle, and nutritional goals.

“With more consumers taking a proactive approach in respect to their health and wellbeing, sustainability ethics, the sugar reduction (and alternatives) market is undoubtedly here to stay. Recently, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conducted reviews on sugar, and based on the official findings, it’s likely that there’ll be an increase in rules and regulations in this field. Such changes are already emerging worldwide – Australia, for example, is planning to introduce added sugar labelling, and Canada is altering how they group sugar ingredients in the list.

“It’s certainly an exciting time for food manufacturers. But it’s vital to stay ahead of the game to ensure consumers have products they want, products they understand, and products that comply with legislation.”

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