Sweet revolution

Over the past decade, the selling point has changed from sugar to sugar free. This evolution not only records the changes in people's lifestyles, but also the process of large companies constantly looking for new sugar substitute concepts to adapt to such changes, as well as the struggle between brand marketing and public policy - it is even difficult for you to figure out who has influenced who. Many times, the fun of business is reflected in these stories.

I'm afraid the food industry has never experienced such a heated wave of sugar control in recent years.

Just like the transformation of sports and leisure style to the clothing industry, healthy eating style has also completely affected the food and beverage industry. Low oil, low sugar and low fat have become globally recognized as the right diet. Many industry giants who used to gain market position by selling sweet and carbon water have to re-examine their market strategies, or develop and improve or acquire new health lines to optimize their product camp and brand image.

Among them, both large companies and consumers have made greater efforts to control sugar than ever before. This summer, there are more than 10 new products in the category of sugar free bubble water alone. Large companies such as Yili, Nestle, Xi tea and even Tsingtao beer are competing for new products. At the same time, existing tea brands have launched normal sugar, 70% sugar, half sugar, no sugar and other options in stores. In October 2018, Xi tea provided an alternative to low calorie Stevia in all stores, with an additional 1 yuan per cup.

"Sugar free" has become a new selling point of beverages

Photo source: official flagship store of Xi tea tmall

Search for "sugar control" and "sugar free" in Xiaohong book. There are more than 80000 and 360000 notes respectively. Most of them share sugar control diaries and recommend sugar free food. With the consumption upgrading of young consumers in terms of health and appearance, sugar control has become a lifestyle respected by Star Online celebrities. In addition to reducing fat and shaping, it is also considered to have the effect of preventing skin aging and boosting spirit. Similar to fitness, sugar control has become a manifestation of self-discipline.

Sugar free food refers to solid or liquid food with sugar content of no more than 0.5g per 100g or 100ml. The market insight of innova, a Dutch based consulting firm, has long tracked the food and beverage industry. In the company's database, in 2019, the number of new products with "low sugar", "no sugar" or "no added sugar" labels worldwide nearly doubled compared with 2015.

At home, the latest and brightest case brought by this trend is the rapid rise of the vitality forest of domestic beverage brands.

Over the years, the bottled beverage market has been regarded as a mature market with a determined pattern and fierce competition. From the supply chain, sales channels to consumers' brand awareness, several companies such as Coca Cola, Pepsi, Master Kang and uni president have been in control for many years, leaving almost no market space for new brands.

However, Yuanqi forest, which has only been established for more than four years, claims that the sales performance in the first five months of 2020 exceeded 660 million yuan, and the performance in May exceeded the annual sales in 2018. As of October last year, Yuanqi forest had completed four rounds of financing. The latest news is that Yuanqi forest may have completed a new round of financing in July, with a valuation of about 14 billion yuan, about 3.5 times that of the previous round.

The core product strategy of Yuanqi forest is sugar free. On the bottle body packaging of its star product bubble water, "0 sugar, 0 fat and 0 card" is deliberately emphasized.

Source: Official Website of Yuanqi forest

From a commercial point of view, this is another classic successful case around sugar. The difference is that in more than ten years, the selling point has changed from sugar to sugar free. This evolution not only records the changes in people's lifestyles, but also the process of large companies constantly looking for new sugar substitute concepts to adapt to such changes, as well as the struggle between brand marketing and public policy - it is even difficult for you to figure out who has influenced who. Many times, the fun of business is reflected in these stories.


Disillusionment of sweet worship

Chemically speaking, sugar is a sweet, short chain, water-soluble organic compound. All foods containing carbohydrates - such as fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products - naturally contain sugar, which is also called "endogenous sugar". In contrast, human beings will also take additional sugar from condiments, snacks, beverages and other foods. This kind of sugar is called "free sugar". Sucrose extracted from sugarcane accounts for about 78% in the market and has almost become synonymous with free sugar.

Sugar can provide most of the energy the human body needs. In the process of evolution, the human brain has learned to stimulate us to eat again to obtain energy by secreting dopamine, a neurotransmitter that transmits pleasure information, so that human beings can survive.

At the social level, sweets are often used as a reward for children, which has gradually evolved into an inertial thinking that continues to adulthood: sweets are a scarce demand for delayed satisfaction. Once the needs are met, the brain also secretes dopamine to make us happy.

But we didn't get sugar so easily from the beginning.

In primitive society, human beings relied on hunting and gathering to obtain food dominated by meat, eggs and wild fruits, so the diet structure was more fat and less carbohydrates. However, the reality that we can only find what to eat makes the variety of human food diverse. Tens of thousands of years of adaptation to the environment has gradually shaped the human gene structure.

"If we don't think about the dieters' habits of the gatherers' ancestors, it's hard to explain why we can't resist the sweetest and greasiest food. At that time, they lived on the grassland or in the forest, and high calorie sweets were very rare and always in short supply." Yuval herali said in a brief history of mankind.

After entering the agricultural society, human beings have mastered the skills of planting grain and greatly improved the efficiency of grain production. When easy to grow crops become the staple food on the table, human food sources tend to be single, the proportion of carbohydrates increases, and the intake of sugar gradually increases.

As a condiment, free sugar was a luxury for a long time. Sucrose has been a rare delicacy enjoyed by the aristocracy since it was introduced into Europe from Africa in the 11th century. Until the 14th century, European colonists brought sugarcane planting technology to the new world. By the 18th century, the sugar industry developed in America and the West Indies through slavery similar to cotton planting. The output of sugar is rising rapidly and the price is falling, which can also be borne by ordinary families.

Mechanized production in the industrial society further prospered the sugar industry. Some large companies have found that adding sucrose to the formula can not only optimize the taste, but also stimulate consumers' addiction, which has made a number of carbonated drinks, snacks and candy brands popular. In his book salt, sugar and fat: how food giants manipulate us, Michael moss, a reporter of the New York Times, wrote that food and beverages have an optimal sweetness, called "blissful point", which can peak people's sensory enjoyment. Through calculations and experiments, food and beverage companies find the "blissful point" that consumers can't stop. R & D personnel even use brain scans to test the response of human neural function to food formulas.

As a result, human intake of free sugar has increased significantly, even exceeding the dose that the human body can afford. Compared with the long primitive society, the industrial society lasted only a hundred years, but the human diet changed rapidly during this period. From the perspective of anthropological research, our genes have no time to adapt to this change, and the body has diseases due to excessive sugar, which is called "evolutionary disorder" by anthropologists.

When sugar cannot be consumed in time, human blood glucose rises rapidly, which stimulates the release of excess insulin in the body, opens the channel for glucose to enter cells, and the excess sugar is converted into fat and stored in the body. This will not only lead to obesity, but also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. At the same time, sugar will also promote the fermentation of bacteria in the mouth and cause tooth decay.

In the 1960s, the European and American Nutrition circles debated whether fat or sugar was more harmful to health. Behind it was the interest struggle supported by the Dairy Association, Meat Association and Sugar Association. In 1967, researchers at Harvard University published a study in the New England Journal of medicine that fat is the main culprit of cardiovascular disease, and the effect of sugar is relatively small. The sugar industry association immediately funded research to promote this view. This also partly contributed to the popularity of low-fat diets earlier than sugar free diets.

However, the high obesity rate and corresponding diseases eventually forced all parties to re-examine the problem of sugar - according to the assessment of the World Health Organization, the global obesity prevalence nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016. In 2014, the World Health Organization issued guidelines on sugar intake, suggesting that adults' daily sugar intake should be controlled at 5% of the total energy intake on that day, about 25g. A series of public policies have been issued one after another. Sugar tax, a degenerate consumption tax similar to tobacco tax, has been implemented in many countries and cities, including Britain, Ireland, France, Hungary, Berkeley, California and Philadelphia in the United States. Since then, the negative effect of sucrose has been confirmed.


Big companies looking for sugar substitutes

In 1879, the first generation of artificial sugar substitute "saccharin" was born and introduced to the market in 1884. Since then, artificial sugar substitutes such as sodium cyclamate, aspartame, acesulfame and sucralose have come out one after another. These sugar substitutes, also known as sweeteners, are food additives that can give food sweetness. They have little effect on blood glucose and will not be absorbed by the human body after being excreted from the internal organs. Non nutritive sugar substitutes, which are sweet with sucrose but with 2% lower energy value, have almost no calories and will not cause dental caries.

These surrogates for sucrose first brought good news to diabetics. At the same time, when it reaches the same sweetness as sucrose, the cost of artificial sugar substitute is lower, and food and beverage companies can reduce production costs. However, as people pay more attention to health and image, and the side effects of sugar are gradually exposed, smart food brands begin to try to use sugar substitutes and make the slogan of "no sugar", which pokes the pain point of ordinary consumers who want to eat sweet and don't want to get fat.

As early as 1964 and 1982, Pepsi and Coca Cola launched their own sugar free products, light Pepsi and diet coke, using artificial sugar substitutes such as aspartame, but they did not publicize the sugar substitute itself. This is because there was a dispute in the academic circles at that time about how much harm artificial sugar did to the human body. One view is that artificial sugar substitutes will lead to confusion of intestinal flora and affect digestion; Another view is that the sweetness of artificial sugar substitutes may make the human body produce the illusion of having eaten sugar, so as to secrete excessive insulin.

In order to eliminate all kinds of doubts, artificial sugar substitutes have gone through many iterations. Early artificial sugar substitutes such as saccharin gradually withdrew from the historical stage under policy restrictions because they were suspected of insufficient safety. New artificial sugar substitutes such as Acesulfame and sucralose have a global market share of more than 50%.

Of course, these negative effects can't be discussed without dose. All sugar substitutes have undergone strict safety evaluation before being approved for use. If they are used in an appropriate amount, they will not endanger health, and the average person's intake will not exceed a reasonable dose - an adult may not feel ill until he drinks at least 12 bottles of zero coke a day.

In 1984, Wrigley Company launched the first sugar free chewing gum in the United States, pushing the raw material of sugar substitute "xylitol" to the front of the stage, so that ordinary consumers can understand the existence of sugar substitute.

Source: Wrigley flagship store

Sugar alcohol sugar substitutes are generally extracted from grains and plants and reacted with hydrogen under the action of catalyst. Similar to sorbitol, maltitol and so on. Compared with completely chemically synthesized sugar substitutes, sugar alcohols appear relatively "natural". Although exceeding the dose is easy to cause diarrhea, it also has a large range. Adults can not exceed 50g per day.

The success of sugar alcohol has encouraged the brand to continue to explore sugar substitutes that can convince consumers, including Stevia glycosides, licorice, lutein and other pure natural sugar substitutes have also begun to be widely used, among which Stevia glycosides extracted from Stevia are the most used. Although healthier, the taste of natural sugar substitutes is not so easy to control. For example, the aftertaste of Stevia glycoside is bitter and astringent, which is described as "metallic".

Coca Cola launched the life series green bottle Cola using Stevia glycosides in 2013. Finally, it failed to open the market because of taste problems. The company is truly a pioneering and competitive product. It also belongs to the red and black packaged zero coke listed in 2005.

Although the ingredient list is almost the same as diet coke, compared with diet coke which is more targeted at female consumers, zero Cola is neutral and has a relatively wide consumer base. For Chinese consumers, zero coke almost represents the Enlightenment of sugar free diet.

In 2002, almost when Coca Cola was ready to launch zero coke, P & G and Pepsi also looked for natural sugar substitutes around the world. Finally, they found Siraitia grosvenorii as a traditional medicinal material in China and extracted Siraitia grosvenorii sweet glycoside. Compared with stevioside, Siraitia grosvenorii stevioside has no bitter aftertaste, is closer to the taste of sucrose, and can be used in a larger dose range.

Huang huaxue, founder of Huacheng biology, was a core member of the Luohanguo development project team. In 2008, he founded Huacheng biology. The extract of Luohanguo sweet glycoside is its core product, which is mainly exported to Japan and North America. However, compared with Stevia that can be planted in many places around the world, Siraitia grosvenorii is basically only planted in China, with limited production. Therefore, Huacheng has planted Siraitia grosvenorii on a large scale in more than 30 counties and cities such as Hunan, Jiangxi and Guizhou since 2012, with a suitable planting area of more than 6 million mu.

In addition to planting raw materials, attention should be paid to the content, taste, sweetness, color, smell and extraction yield of sweet glycosides in the process of plant extraction, which makes the cost of natural sugar substitutes and sugar alcohol sugar substitutes generally higher than that of artificial sugar substitutes, "Under the same sweetness, the use cost of aspartame and other artificial sugar substitutes is about 0.3 to 0.5 times that of sucrose, the cost of stevioside is 0.6 times that of sucrose, the cost of siraitin is 1.6 to 2 times that of sucrose, and the cost of sugar alcohols is 3 to 6 times." Zhou Zhan, marketing director of Hunan Huacheng biological resources Co., Ltd., told the author.

At the same time, the sweetness of all kinds of sugar substitutes is inconsistent with sucrose, which is relatively difficult to control. The sweetness of aspartame and acesulfame can reach more than 150 times that of sucrose, while the sweetness of erythritol is only 0.65 times that of sucrose.

"The sweetness (sweet price ratio), safety, taste and functional characteristics provided by unit price are several main dimensions of brand choice of sugar substitutes." Xu Yunqiao, director of Qingtong capital investment, said. Different sugar substitutes have their own advantages and disadvantages in these dimensions. It is difficult for a single raw material to meet these characteristics at the same time. The general solution in the industry is to mix several kinds of sugar substitutes to reconcile the taste and balance the cost. In addition, sucrose also has the functional characteristics of water retention, thickening and filling, such as sending cream during baking and increasing flavor and color when making braised meat. These are still difficult to replace by sugar substitutes.

"Some companies will combine sugar substitutes with fructose. The sweetness of fructose is very pure, so the sugar content is mainly fructose, but the marketing is mainly sugar substitutes." Cheng Peng, founder of animal life, a health food brand, said.

Sugar alcohol products between natural sugar substitutes and artificial sugar substitutes, due to their relatively balanced performance in all dimensions, not only have zero calories, light sweetness, but also have a slight cool feeling, and gradually have a momentum of surpassing artificial sugar substitutes. This year, the popularity of Yuanqi forest has driven the demand for erythritol. In order to adjust the taste and cost, Yuanqi forest is actually compounded with sucralose, "the latter can provide more than 13 times the sweetness of sucrose per unit price." Xu Yunqiao said.


Sugar free business

Although Coca Cola has experienced the crisis of declining revenue, zero Cola has maintained double-digit growth for three consecutive years. In 2019, the sugar content per 100ml of Coca Cola beverage decreased by 4%, but the sales volume increased by 2.2%.

Sugar control has formed an obvious consumption trend all over the world, and global brands take the lead in changing their strategies.

In its reply to the author, Coca Cola said that in 2019, the company launched more than 1000 new products worldwide, of which 400 were low sugar or sugar free products. "In China, we provide consumers with more than 20 brands and about 100 different flavors of products, of which more than 40 of the 14 brands are low sugar and sugar free products." In addition to diet and zero, Coca Cola has successively listed sugar free drinks such as Coca Cola fiber +, Sprite fiber +, Fanta zero card, Yiquan soda water series in China.

The Research Report of Guojin securities also shows that China has become the largest producer of sugar substitutes, accounting for about 75% of the world's output in 2018, but the response of the Chinese market to sugar free diet is relatively lagging behind.

In 2012, when reading anthropologists' theories on human evolution, Cheng Peng first came into contact with the dietary method of controlling carbohydrates. "Not only do few people know about low-carbon water in China, but basically no one talks about the harm of sugar." Cheng Peng said. At that time, the lifestyle of sugar breaking was quite popular in Europe and America, and nutritionists began to plan diet for diabetics.

Compared with this diet, Cheng Peng consciously reduced his daily intake of carbon and water, rarely ate staple foods, changed to meat, eggs and vegetables, and quit all sugary snacks and drinks. He no longer follows three meals a day and only eats when he is hungry. Five months later, Cheng Peng reduced from 200 kg to 160 kg. "I don't have sports hobbies and habits, so I don't have any sports at all." This diet continues to this day. Now he even eats only one dinner a day.

Cheng Peng opened the official account of "beast life" in 2016 and the popular way of eating low carbon water. Because low-carbon water was very different from the traditional Chinese diet - at that time, domestic consumers were still popular to eat vegetarian and salad - Cheng Peng was questioned at the beginning. "Many people think that 'grain is for food' and can't eat less. Others say that without sugar, the body has no strength and the brain will become stupid, but in fact, protein and fat can be converted into sugar." Cheng Peng told the author.

After educating a group of readers, people began to feed back to the purchase of ready to eat low carbon water food. Cheng Peng and his team opened a takeaway restaurant in Beijing, but could not radiate to the official account of the national public. In 2017, beast life turned to online and created the first healthy functional food brand "ideal fuel". Its products include bulletproof coffee and energy bar, which are aimed at shaping and fat reducing people.

Sugar free products for ordinary consumers have long appeared in China, but the market performance has not been warm. In 2011, Nongfu mountain spring launched the sugar free tea "Oriental leaves", but it was once jokingly called "one of the top 5 drinks in China" because of its weak taste. Nongfu mountain spring did not cut off this product. It was not until sugar free tea became popular in recent two years that it was evaluated as a "product with advanced consciousness".

When the market education was not mature, nearly 30% of the consumers of wild animals came from the official account readers. With the entry of more and more brands, beast life, like other FMCG brands, has turned to social media content delivery, and further implanted products through penetration of sugar control lifestyle. Now the number of users is nearly one million.

In 2019, beast life established another sub brand, sugar loss, to transform food into sugar free, and expand the consumer population to the public. After launching snacks such as low-carbon water xiaofangsu and Muffin Cake, Cheng Peng and others feel that it is the traditional staple food that really affects Chinese people's eating habits. "The substitutability of snacks is relatively strong. When we choose products, we still consider the scenario that users eat more frequently and just need more in their daily diet." Cheng Peng said. Therefore, sugar throwing began to transform the staple food, successively developed products such as low-carbon water, fiber bag without sucrose, light truck cauliflower rice, and launched spaghetti made of fish instead of white flour in October 2019.

The sugar free trend even increased the voice of sugar substitute suppliers who had never had a name before. For example, bowling Bao, the main supplier of Yuanqi forest, according to its 2020 semi annual report, the net profit in the first half of this year increased by 78.21% year-on-year. Before bowling Bao, its profitability was not ideal. Its income structure was dominated by starch sugar and fructose syrup, and the proportion of sugar alcohol products has been very low. Driven by Yuanqi forest and other customers, the revenue of bowling sugar alcohol products increased by 24% year-on-year in 2019.

Similarly, Acer honey's head supplier Jinhe industry, as well as related sugar free concept stocks such as Fengyuan pharmaceutical and Chenguang biology, also rose sharply this summer. Among them, Jinhe industry also launched 2C brand Philharmonic in 2017, saying that it will settle in offline channels such as HEMA this summer. Huacheng biology has also listed the sugar substitute brand lvguotian, which will be promoted throughout the network in the second half of the year. In the second half of 2016, Starbucks launched a sugar package composed of Siraitia grosvenorii extract, stevioside and erythritol in more than 9000 stores in North America, allowing overseas markets to have extensive access to Siraitia grosvenorii sugar substitutes. Since 2017, the revenue of Huacheng biology has maintained an increase of more than 50%, which mainly comes from the development of domestic sugar substitute market. "For the projects that were delayed for one or two years, now the brand should speed up the listing progress and the cooperation with our raw material suppliers." Zhou Zhan said that since 2018, he has obviously felt the addition of a large number of new brands. Even Huacheng's local areca enterprises in Hunan have found them to develop sugar free areca. Another boost also comes from official policies. On August 31, 2016, the national food safety standard of Siraitia grosvenorii sweet glycoside as a food additive was issued, which opened the policy door for the domestic business of Huacheng biology. In the same year, the national nutrition plan (2017-2030) issued by the general office of the State Council clearly proposed to carry out special actions focusing on "three reductions and three health" (salt reduction, oil reduction, sugar reduction, healthy mouth, healthy weight and healthy bone). The healthy China action (2019-2030) released in July 2019 also pointed out to promote the production and consumption of low sugar or sugar free food.


The eternal contradiction between health and delicacy

There are still barriers to the non saccharification of a certain kind of food and the establishment of the corresponding supply chain, but the technical difficulty is not too high. "At present, it is only a matter of time to see which brand will seize the market of a category first." Lin Feng, an investment manager of an investment institution, said. His investment institution invested in the healthy snack brand daily Heiqiao. Its products use inulin as a sugar substitute and beat the sugar free concept in the chocolate category. However, he found that in terms of sales, the main force is still the slightly sweet category, and most consumers can't accept the bitter and sour sugar free dark chocolate. To achieve ultimate health, it is inevitable to sacrifice part of the taste. "We often joke that some health food brands may not consume more customers than Jing'an business district." Lin Feng joked. "If the taste is poor, it is difficult to re purchase even if the raw materials are healthy. Factors such as brand R & D ability, control over the production end and control over the production process directly affect the taste performance of the final product." Xu Yunqiao said that the ingredient list is only one aspect, and the greater difference is still reflected in the taste of the final product. Considering China's eating habit of taking rice noodles as the staple food, as well as the richness and delicacy of Chinese food and the ultimate pursuit of color, aroma, sugar control may be particularly difficult for Chinese consumers. After all, losing weight depends on the overall energy balance. Some innovative brands focus on promoting their use of natural sugar substitutes and make the slogan of "no sugar", but after all, the taste is not as good as adding sucrose. The more raw materials are rich, the more so is the snack. Therefore, some brands may beautify their taste by adding grains, fruits and dairy products. In other words, although free sugar is not added, many foods containing endogenous sugar are added, and the overall energy is not low, which requires consumers to read the composition table to distinguish. Another study believes that sugar substitutes stimulate people to eat more food because they fail to make the human body secrete dopamine to meet their appetite. At the same time, there is no obvious trend to improve the problems brought by sugar addiction to human beings. In April 2020, the British Medical Journal published a survey of the prevalence of diabetes in China. The prevalence of diabetes in the 18 to 29 year olds has reached 2%, and 6.3% between 30 and 39 years old. (at the request of the interviewee, Lin Feng is a pseudonym in the text)