Waikato Sugar alternative key in new product innovation

New 98% sugar-free beverage offers Kiwi families a healthier fruit drink option

New 98% sugar-free beverage offers Kiwi families a healthier fruit drink option

A Kiwi-Chinese joint venture developing a low-calorie sugar alternative made entirely from fruit will now see its ingredient added to an innovative new beverage.

FMCG manufacturer Hansells Food Group will be using the product in a new shelf-stable beverage that utilises monk fruit juice supplied by Waikato-based Guilin GFS Monk Fruit Corporation to meet the growing demand for low-sugar drinks.

Vitafresh Made for Kids will be a 98% sugar-free beverage with no artificial flavours or sweeteners, and features the juice of the small Chinese melon touted to combat the growing obesity epidemic by reducing sugar and calories in everyday foods and drinks.

Hansells marketing manager Jane Bennett says monk fruit, which has a neutral taste profile that is easy to blend, is an exciting development and ideal in supporting the company’s move into the competitive category.

“Last year we began developing a fruit drink under the Vitafresh brand that parents could give to their children without feeling guilty,” she says.

“With this in mind, we were looking at a low sugar (2.5% or less) option with no artificial flavours – and more importantly, no artificial sweeteners. The use of monk fruit juice along with Stevia has allowed us to create a product that has ticked all the boxes; 98% sugar free, no ‘no-nos’ and great-tasting, and so far the reception from trade and consumers has been very positive.”

It is estimated that for every million litres of traditional fruit drink sold, Kiwi families are consuming up to 10,000kg of sugar. The fruit drink industry is worth $54 million in the New Zealand market, but Kiwis are becoming more aware of the impact of sugar, and are now looking for alternatives.

“Kiwi consumers are not only looking for reduced sugar options, they are becoming more discerning when it comes to understanding what these substitutes are made from, and are seeking out reduced sugar products that also taste good,” Bennett says.

Alongside beverages, monk fruit juice can also be used to reduce sugar content in foods like yoghurt and breakfast cereals, Monk Fruit Corporation general manager for sales and marketing David Thorrold says. The company has supplied the ingredient to a major Australian supermarket chain creating a reduced sugar cereal, and also several Australian chocolate manufacturers.

“The Australian market is very developed when it comes to the wellness category,” he says. “Because many Australian consumers look for low sugar products, food manufacturers are constantly seeking alternative ingredients which have similar taste profiles to sugar.”

Global interest in monk fruit juice is increasing as manufacturers see the ingredient successfully integrated into new product releases. “We are forecasting that within the next three years, we will have regulatory approval for our products to reach more than five billion consumers globally,” Thorrold says.