d during the first nine months of 2004, including a number of candy items, according to Productscan Online. The review of new products indicates a near tripling of reduced-sugar product launches in the U.S. market since 1999.
Recent introductions include a candy cane made of Sweet'n Low; several top-selling kids' cereals; and fruit juices and drinks, according to officials with New York-based Datamonitor, a business information firm and Productscan parent.
"Sugar-free products have been around for a long time as diabetic sections of supermarkets attest. What is different this time is a broadening of the market for sugar-free and reduced-sugar foods and beverages," said Tom Vierhile, Productscan's executive editor.
The percentage of new food and beverage products claiming to have a reduced amount of sugar or no sugar at all has more than doubled since 2001. For the year to date ended Sept. 30, some 9.2% of all new food and beverage products have made sugar-reduction claims, up from 4.3% of introductions in 2001.
Kids' cereals are leading the way. In May, Kellogg introduced Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops cereals, both with one-third less sugar than original Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops. Neither product is made with artificial sweeteners. General Mills answered in July with some reduced-sugar cereals of its own. Cocoa Puffs, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Trix were all launched in formulations with 75% less sugar than the originals, using Splenda, the calorie-free sweetener.
Manufacturers of fruit juices and drinks are hoping that reduced-sugar products have the potential to turn the struggling category around. PepsiCo's Tropicana Products unit recently introduced Tropicana Light Pasteurized drinks in Fruit Punch and Lemonade versions. Each beverage contains just half the sugar and calories of the regular products.
While fruit juice and drink sellers seem reluctant to call these products "diet" drinks, they certainly appear to be aimed at the same consumers as diet soft drinks. Productscan cited statistics from Coca-Cola showing that just 8% of fruit-drink sales are low-calorie products, while 25% of soft-drink sales are reduced-calorie beverages.
The aging of the population may also fuel interest in reduced-sugar products. In the wine industry, some more experienced wine drinkers prefer drier, less sweet, red wines vs. sweet white wines. The same could hold true in soft drinks and might spark development in drier, less sweet-tasting flavors, Vierhile noted.
The change in attitude about sugar could be good news for some of the newer "adult" soft-drink brands to hit the beverage market, such as GuS Grown-Up Soda and Fizzy Lizzy All Natural Sparkling Juice. GuS is lightly sweetened and is formulated with real juice, while Fizzy Lizzy contains no added sugar or corn syrup.
"Regardless of which way the trend goes, new-product developers should expect to be very busy over the near term," said Vierhile.