CHICAGO — People looking to cut back on sugar may soon start seeing more of a novel ingredient: allulose, a substitute that tastes and performs much like the real thing but with a tenth of the calories and none of the cavity-causing, insulin-spiking drawbacks.
Allulose, considered a “rare sugar,” in April got the blessing of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to not be counted as sugar in nutrition labels because it does not produce the same physical effects.
Since then, its primary manufacturer has seen a surge of interest from food companies seeking to cater to the large and growing contingent of consumers concerned that added sugar plays a leading role in obesity and disease.
“The size and value and number of opportunities that we’re working jointly with customers on has, since April, probably grown by a factor of three or four,” said Bill Magee, senior vice president and general manager of food and beverage solutions at ingredient-maker Tate & Lyle, which pioneered the commercial development of allulose at its global innovation center in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
“A lot of these customers had been doing the work to be ready to go … and now [with the FDA label decision] everyone is running really fast to figure out how do get this into their brands,” he said.
The FDA’s guidance, a response to a petition by Tate & Lyle, came as large companies face a 2020 deadline to comply with new nutrition labeling guidelines that draw more attention to sugar content, including a new line for “added sugars.”
Now that allulose can be excluded from the sugar count and can be used with a “no sugar added” claim, the ingredient is a potential game-changer for appealing to label-conscious shoppers.
Allulose still faces obstacles, including high costs and concerns about potential side effects. But it is poised to add a unique solution to food manufacturers’ arsenal of sweeteners at a time consumers are seeking both sugar reduction and natural ingredients.
Sales of artificial sweeteners have been declining over the past five years while sales of stevia, a natural high-intensity sweetener, have been climbing, according to Nielsen. But unlike those other substitutes, allulose behaves like sugar in a wide variety of applications, allowing cotton candy its fluff and caramels their chew.
Allulose has been commercially available for four years, but the inability to make sugar reduction claims on the labeling kept it from being widely adopted, and it is relatively unknown outside of the diabetes community and ketogenic diet circles.