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3 reasons reducing sugar is good for the restaurant business

Consumers’ eating habits are shifting, and sugar is one of the main targets. A growing number of consumers want to change their diets and are seeking natural sweetening solutions and reduced-sugar menu items. Proactive restaurants that satisfy those needs drive traffic and increase customer loyalty. Here are three reasons why.

Health at risk

The World Health Organization strongly recommends reducing sugar intake to less than 10% of the daily diet. Additionally, there is a growing awareness of the harmful effects of a high-sugar diet: 80% of consumers say that items described as low-sugar are slightly or much more healthy, according to Technomic’s 2018 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report. The problem lies in added sugars that are hidden in a huge variety of food products—beverages, baked goods, cereals, dairy products, condiments and more. 

And though many people have been successful at reducing their sugar consumption at home, dining out can be problematic. FDA regulations requiring chain restaurants to list nutritional information on menu items have helped these customers. However, diners are increasingly looking for restaurants to offer more reduced-sugar options.

Dining-out dilemma

A quick Google search reveals a slew of watchdog websites critical of restaurants for their nutritionally dismal menu items. A full 59% of consumers say they would like restaurants to be more transparent about sugar content, and 31% say health is very important in their decision on which restaurant to visit, according to Technomic’s 2018 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report. Chains that address these concerns are seeing more satisfied customers.

Positive examples include: Smoothie Kings’s Zero Grams Added Sugar Menu; Starbuck’s Delicious Drinks Under 200 Calories section and sugar-free syrup options; Panera’s Craft Beverage section, which offers options made with less sugar (or in some cases none at all); and Dunkin’s DDSMART logo program, highlighting items with reduced calories, fat, sugar or sodium. All of these programs were added in response to consumer desire for better-for-you or lower-sugar options. 

Sugar substitutes

Despite demands for reduced sugar, consumers still have a sweet tooth. One way to reduce sugar is to use low- and no-calorie sweeteners such as saccharine, aspartame and sucralose. These artificial sweeteners are FDA-approved and are considered safe to consume. However, many consumers prefer sweeteners they consider to be natural and want more options that deliver a clean sweetness with fewer calories.

Relative newcomer, stevia, is becoming more popular because it is derived from the Stevia leaf and perceived as more ‘natural’ by consumers. According to Technomic’s Healthy Eating report, 74% of consumers say they are more likely to purchase items described as natural. Stevia based sweeteners are zero-calorie and contribute zero grams of sugar. Stevia is a small shrub native to the region of South America where the borders of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil meet. Stevia is increasingly showing up in a number of foodservice applications, especially in beverages.

Allulose is another sugar substitute that operators can use to reduce calories and grams of sugar in their products. Offering a similar sweet taste profile without the calories nor sugar of, well, sugar (sucrose), allulose is about 70% as sweet as sucrose and offers similar functionalities, like bulking, browning and freeze-point depression—and, because it’s absorbed by the body but not metabolized, it’s nearly calorie-free (0.4 calories per gram).

Teaming up

For restaurants and food manufacturers, it is not always simple to reduce sugar. As an ingredient, sugar provides bulk, browning, texture and other essential characteristics. Additional ingredients might be needed to help maintain the texture and performance. Restaurant chains can partner with manufacturers and ingredient providers to develop solutions that fit the needs of their patrons.

Restaurant operators can offer delicious options that meet the customer’s desire for healthy, low-sugar options. That’s sweet!

This post is sponsored by Ingredion

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