Article is available in full to IFST members and subscribers.

Register on the FST Journal website for free

Click the button to register to FST Journal online for free and gain access to the latest news


If you are an IFST member, please login through the Members Area of the IFST website. 













Sugar reduction in dairy

Reducing sugar in diary

Natalie Drake of Synergy Flavours explores the challenges of reformulating dairy products to reduce sugar content.

Sugar reduction is never far from the headlines and has become a major focus for food manufacturers, retailers and food service providers. Scrutiny is translating into directives and guidelines from governments and industry bodies across Europe, and pressure from consumers, who are increasingly aware of the potential impact of excessive sugar consumption on their health.

The UK Government’s childhood obesity plan was launched in 2016 with the aim of encouraging the industry to reformulate products to lower children’s sugar intakes. Part two of the plan, published in June 2018, set out the goal of halving childhood obesity and reducing the gap in obesity between children from the most and least deprived areas by 2030. Guidelines from The World Health Organisation (WHO) strongly recommend that adults and children reduce their intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake, ideally to 5%[1].

The UK sugar reduction programme states that ‘All sectors of the food and drinks industry are challenged to reduce overall sugar across a range of products that contribute to children’s sugar intakes by at least 20% by 2020, including a 5% reduction in the first year’ – 2017, which was subsequently not achieved. The guidance suggests ‘reducing sugar levels in products, reducing portion size, or shifting purchasing towards lower sugar alternatives.’

Alongside the growing pressure from above and within the industry, the demand for reduced sugar products is being led by a new generation of consumers with a better understanding of the link

between food and health. High profile TV investigations about how much sugar is in everyday products are fuelling particular interest in this issue.

The role of sugar in dairy products

There are many challenges for dairy product manufacturers trying to achieve sugar reduction targets without compromising taste, flavour and mouthfeel in their products. The product attributes that need to be considered in addition to loss of flavour are:

• impact on texture – structural changes to the product

• perception of sweetness

• visual appeal

• product shelf-life

• storage and processing parameters

• labelling requirements.

Reformulating a dairy product so that it delivers the same quality and eating experience with less sugar – especially in some applications, such as dairy beverages and ice-cream, – is an advanced technical challenge.

Lactose (a disaccharide formed of glucose and galactose units) is the only naturally-occurring sugar present in milk and is therefore also present naturally in most dairy products. It contributes greatly to the physical properties of dairy products. Since lactose is considerably less sweet than sucrose, other sugars or sweeteners are often added to dairy products in order to increase the sweetness to levels that consumers prefer. This is why some dairy products are being scrutinised for their ‘excessive’ sugar content. Sugars increase the viscosity or thickness of frozen desserts, yogurts and flavoured milks, which helps to increase the smoothness perceived in the mouth. Sugars are often used in lower-fat products to increase flavour, texture and to re-balance the mouthfeel in reduced fat recipes, which is an added challenge for those wanting to lower sugar content, while also keeping fat content to a minimum.

Reformulating dairy products

There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to achieving great tasting, reduced sugar dairy products. Manufacturers are using increasingly advanced formulations, ingredients and processing techniques to overcome the taste, texture and nutritional challenges of reducing sugar in dairy applications.

Dairy manufacturers look for ingredients that can withstand different processing parameters (high temperatures, freezing and thaw cycles and different storage or shelf life requirements). They aim to overcome the loss of sweetness and function that occurs when sugar is removed by introducing high intensity sweeteners (acesulfame K, sucralose, Stevia) and bulking agents (inulin, oligofructose and polydextrose). These ingredients can help provide functional benefits, such as enhanced mouthfeel, texture and taste, but they are not able to build back the flavour loss which occurs when reducing the sugar content of products.

Developing effective formulations

Reduced sugar solutions need to work successfully across a range of recipes, so an understanding of each individual matrix is required to develop a suitable, customised solution. Using sensory analysis of the base formulations helps to identify sensory differences between full sugar and reduced sugar bases, focusing on factors, such as sweetness, creaminess, intensity of flavour and flavour release. A combination of sensory and analytical data provides a hierarchal list of the key challenges that need to be overcome in a particular sugar-reduced formulation.

Using natural fermentation processes, dairy commodities, such as cream and milk, can be converted into concentrated dairy ingredients, which enhance flavour, mouthfeel and creaminess in dairy products and can be used to compensate for the reduction of sugar. The addition of these dairy-based flavours helps to enhance the creaminess, which is often lost in reduced sugar dairy products.

Reducing sugar levels can result in considerable changes to the structure of a product and thus has an impact on release of both sweetness and flavour. These issues can be addressed with the addition of sweet natural flavourings tailored to the base, bringing the reduced sugar product closer to the full sugar product.

Sensory analysis can then be employed to qualify the effectiveness of the proposed solution. Using this approach, Synergy has been able to achieve a reduction in sugar content of up to 30% across dairy products, such as ice cream and yoghurts, while maintaining taste and nutritional content.

Reducing sugar levels can result in considerable changes to the structure of a product and thus has an impact on release of both sweetness and flavour.

The future is still sweet

The UK food and beverage industry is making some significant strides towards achieving the targets that have been set out by government, but voluntary targets are just one part of the picture. The bigger challenge comes in educating consumers about the need to reduce sugar in the diet and the role of nutrition in health. Initiatives led by governments, brands, the media, charities and other organisations are important in changing consumer perception of products that carry the ‘reduced’ label.

Natalie Drake, Category Manager, Synergy Flavours




1. Sugars intake for adults and children, World Health Organization, 2015

2. Sugar Reduction: Achieving the 20%. A technical report outlining progress to date, guidelines for industry, 2015 baseline levels in key foods and next steps, March 2017, Public Health England

New FS and T website!

We encourage you to visit the new home for our Food Science and Technology quarterly magazine. This now sits as part of Wiley's Online Library. There, you can access all our past issues from 2017 up to our current issue. Access the new website here: 

View the latest digital issue of FS&T or browse the archive


Click here

Become a member of the Institute of Food Science and Technology