The Race to the Bottom of the Sugar Bowl

brown and white sugar cubes
Photo by minjungkim (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Beth Kowitt, in Fortune, explores food manufacturers’ race to find a sugar stand-in that ticks all the boxes: cheap, “natural” (i.e., plant-based), and actually tastes like sugar. Amid the science, stevia leaves, and sucralose, she takes a step back: if sugar is such a health hazard, why don’t we just… eat less sugar?

There seems to be an obvious solution to all of this that would be much easier for everyone: Why not just eat less sugar? “As we move away from sugar, we are facing this dilemma that nothing tastes like sugar,” says consultant Woo. We know, after all, that our expectations are not set by nature. In the U.S. products tend to be sweeter than in Europe. For example, a liter-size bottle of American Dr ­Pepper has 108 grams of sugar, vs. about 73 grams for the U.K. equivalent. Why not just drop the threshold in the U.S. market too?

Several of the big food and beverage manufacturers have pursued this path, vowing to cut sugar in their products. Coca-Cola says it has already reduced it in more than 200 of its sodas. For its part, PepsiCo has committed that by 2025, at least two-thirds of its volume will have 100 calories or fewer per 12 ounces. (A can of Pepsi has 150 calories, for example.) General Mills has begun slashing sugar in its cereals and yogurt. Nestlé and Dr Pepper Snapple have made pledges of their own.

The challenge stems in large part from what the rest of the market is doing. “They’re afraid that consumers will taste 20% lower sweetness and go to a competitor,” says DuBois. Paul Bakus, Nestlé’s president of corporate affairs, told me that the company has to walk a narrow line between being nutritionally superior to the rest of the market and not sacrificing taste. “We want to reduce sugar where possible as long as we don’t put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage,” he says. “How do you compete if your competitors aren’t following the process or rules or guidelines?”

Read the story