Stonyfield, the U.S.’s largest organic yogurt maker, announced it will reduce added sugars by as much as 40% in some of its lines, according to Forbes. To reduce sugar without altering the taste, Stonyfield reduced the acidity in its yogurt by focusing on two cultures that produce low amounts of lactic acid.
The reformulated yogurts, which will roll out over the course of the year, are seen as a preemptive move ahead of the Food and Drug Administration’s requirement that manufacturers list added sugars on the Nutrition Facts panel.
On its face, removing sugar from a healthful product would seem simple. But Stonyfield’s move shows just how important taste is to even the most health-conscious consumers.
Because sugar smooths the flavor of its yogurt, Stonyfield couldn’t remove the ingredient without fundamentally altering the product's taste. After years of trial and error, the company found that reducing the acidity in its active cultures and using more whole milk was the key.
Manufacturers throughout the industry face a similar challenge in reducing not just sugar, but salt, fat and artificial ingredients, too. A decade ago, Campbell’s announced a sweeping sodium reduction across its product lines only to go back on its pledge after sales began to lag. In reporting his book “Sugar, Salt, Fat,” New York Times reporter Michael Moss tasted Cheez-Its made without salt, and noted they looked and tasted like “cardboard.” The food industry is trying to meet gradual salt reduction guidelines proposed by the FDA, as well as voluntary targets from the National Salt Reduction Initiative.
Innovation is clearly improving ingredient reduction efforts like Stonyfield’s. Last year, Nestle announced its scientists had found a way to restructure sugar in a way that allowed them to use 40% less without impacting the taste of a product. Companies like Unilever, meanwhile, are using calorie-free stevia as a fill-in.