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Pick Your Passion:
The Consumers’ Dilemma Over the Best Sweetener

By Wendy Komancheck

You no longer need to abandon your health conscious mentality to sweeten your tea or coffee. By experimenting with all-natural sweeteners, exploring other options, like honey, and dispelling some artificial sweetener myths, the sugar alternative possibilities are growing.

Walk into any coffee shop or tea parlor, and you’ve a myriad of choices for your tea or coffee addiction. Then, more decision-making comes into play when sweetening your favorite hot or cold beverage. According to Sugarshots spokesman, John Sellick, 65% of us like to add something to our brew to make it sweet.

New Tasty Temptations to Sweeten Your Palate
There are many ways to sweeten your favorite Joe or cuppa. Yet, the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have started a trend where natural sweeteners trump the refined or artificial sweeteners. For example, Sugarshots, www.sugar-shots.com, is the newest natural sweetener to hit the market. Sellick says of his product, "Sugarshots is a natural sugar. It’s never been crystallized or granulated. It’s pure cane juice mixed with a proprietary amount of purified water for optimum dissolvability and uniform distribution. Your first sip will be as sweet as your last."

Sellick maintains that the beverage industry has been "working overtime to bring a better coffee and tea to the consumer," but that the condiment industry has neglected its duties to better the products that add to the flavor of tea and coffee. Sellick claims that granulated sugar has stayed the same for the past 400 years, and that his company has finally upgraded the product. He states, "Sugarshots is the upgrade from the past—both for the consumer and the business owner. The consumer has a better experience—[Sugarshots] tastes better—it’s healthier and easier [to use]. The business owners provide their clientele the best possible sugar—while maintaining their own brand. Since Sugarshots doesn’t have some of the [qualities] of granulated sugar, it sweetens the beverage, but doesn’t overwhelm it."

Sellick argues that his product doesn’t have any negatives—there’s a 25% calorie savings compared to granulated sugar. "We’re becoming a very popular bar syrup," Sellick says. He recommends that the colder the beverage, the better for using Sugarshots, although a consumer can use it in hot or cold beverages.

Sugarshots is sold in three different bottle sizes—12 ounces, 32 ounces and 64 ounces. "You can purchase all three forms online or through various retailers. For the average home use, you can find us nationwide in Williams-Sonoma, Whole Foods grocery chains or online," Sellick says.

Stevia, www.sweetleaf.com, has been on the market for a while. It’s a natural product, grown in Paraguay, China and Brazil. According to Michele Bene, spokeswoman for Sweetleaf Stevia, "In its natural state, the leaves are 30 times sweeter than sugar. The steviosides are extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant during drying and filler is used to dilute the sweetness of the leaf to make it palatable for the consumer."

Stevia is gaining popularity because of its sweetness, and because it doesn’t raise blood sugar. Plus, many folks like using a product made from a plant source over an artificial sweetener. Bene says, "Since many consumers are leaning toward more natural products, stevia provides an all natural alternative to artificial, chemical sweeteners without the calories."

Again, according to Bene, this product has no negatives, unless consumers use too much of it in their drinks—which can make the drinks taste bitter. Bene says, "Stevia has a zero effect on blood sugar, making the product safe for diabetics. Plus, the product has no calories or carbohydrates, making it an excellent choice for weight management. It has also been known to decrease cravings for sweets, stabilizing blood sugar and helping to reduce oral bacteria. [It also] supports a healthy immune system, [as well as healthy] liver and gastrointestinal functions."

Another positive to the product is its availability in several forms for the consumer. Packets, liquid drops and dissolvable tabs are the three methods available for consumer use. Bene adds, "Plus, the liquid is available in several different flavors for those wishing to add stevia and some flavor to the food or beverage of their choice."

Bene says that Sweet Leaf Stevia gets the word out about their product via their website, as well as media and trade outlets. She says, "We are active in many trade shows. We publish monthly press releases with industry and product specific news, and we provide samples through Brand Ambassadors to many restaurants and cafes across the country in major cities."

Granulated Sugar and Honey—the Traditional Sweeteners

Unfortunately, traditional sugar has been getting a bad rap for many decades. But, it’s not the great poison that some marketers make it out to be. Indeed, the Canadian Sugar Institute’s ( www.sugar.ca) spokeswoman, Jenny Gusba, says, "Sugar serves many functions in foods, one important role being sweetness. This attribute has made it popular in hot and cold beverages. There is, however, much discussion about the use of high-intensity sweeteners in place of sugar in beverages. High-intensity sweeteners are able to provide a sweet taste to foods and beverages without the calories; a suggested strategy for facilitating weight loss. However, replacing sugar in a food with a sugar substitute does not necessarily decrease the calorie content of the food. The largest reduction in calories is observed in beverages where sugar is the primary source of calories. This is not the case for tea or coffee, where sugar is added in small amounts for flavor [at one packet of sugar, which is one teaspoon or 15 calories per packet]." Gusba sites scientific journal articles, such as the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007) and the Journal of the American Dietetics Association to back up her assertions. She states, "Research has shown that sugar-reduced foods do not necessarily result in a significant reduction in calories as compensation for the missing energy often occurs."

When it comes to marketing, the Canadian Sugar Institute lists member companies on their websites who market their products. "The Canadian Sugar Institute represents the sugar industry on matters related to trade, nutrition and policy. However, we’re not involved in marketing. Marketing sugar is in the hands of our member companies." And, there’s plenty of ways to market sugar—Turbinado sugar or sugar in the raw, sugar cubes, packets and a host of all different types of sugar products.

Richard Oxley of Sugaronline, www.sugaronline.com, says that the "use of sugar in the tea and coffee industries is and, has been for some time, on the decline. Personally, I believe a core percentage will continue to use sugar in moderation. As more and more health scares, such as chemical substitutes in food, get publicized, I believe people will revert to natural sugars, but in fairly modest amounts."

Honey could be in jeopardy, too, with the threat of the honeybees’ decline that first hit the U.S. news this spring. However, at this time, the honey industry is moving forward in marketing its many products to the beverage industry. According to their Spring 2006 newsletter, the National Honey Board (NHB), www.nhb.org, hit the trade show circuit at the Specialty Coffee Association of America 18th Annual Conference and Exhibition; the 2006 World Tea Expo; and the 2006 Food Marketing Institute’s Show. The NHB encourages "honey companies and individual beekeepers to consider participating in upcoming beverage trade shows, as they represent an excellent opportunity to make new business contacts," says their 2006 newsletter.

Jami Yanoski of NHB explains that coffee drinkers are starting to sweeten their brew with honey. She states, "It’s more popular than you think. Honey goes great with everything. [And,] lighter colored honeys, typically lighter in flavor, work the best in tea." Yanoski also says that the squeeze honey bears and individual portion control packets are used with various restaurants. Yet, the NHB are introducing new methods of honey dispensers, such as the Non-Sticky Honey Disks, Whipped Honey Topping and Bottom-Dispensing Honey Container. For more information, go to www.Honeylocator.com to find companies that sell various types of honey products.

Yanoski adds, "Honey just tastes better. And because it’s a product of nature, consumers feel better using it. When using honey in cold drinks, you need to mix the drink while it’s warm, and cool it down. Otherwise, the honey will settle on the bottom. Many people are discovering [different varieties of] honeys. The honey will look and taste different depending on the blossoms that the bees gather nectar from."

A Very Brief Overview on Artificial Sweeteners
If sugar has been getting a bad rap over the years, the artificial sweetener industry has suffered even more, ever since the 1970s when Sweet N Low started writing cancer warnings on all of its packages. With the Internet, the urban legends about aspartame (Equal) and every other artificial sweetener ever invented has been touted with causing brain tumors, cancer or some other dire disease that threatens to harm or maim humanity. Yet, people still continue to use artificial sweeteners to add a bit of sweetness to their favorite hot beverage.

According to the National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov, "Questions about artificial sweeteners and cancer arose when early studies showed that cyclamate in combination with saccharin caused bladder cancer in laboratory animals. However, results from subsequent carcinogenicity (studies that examine whether a substance can cause cancer) on these sweeteners and other approved sweeteners have not provided clear evidence of an association between artificial sweeteners and cancer in people." And so, the artificial sweetener industry continues to plug along with the other beverage condiment industry in offering another way to sweeten hot and cold beverages.

The most popular kinds of sweeteners are saccharin (Sweet N Low), aspartame (Equal), and sucralose (Splenda). Sweet N Low, www.sweetnlow.com, is made by the Cumberland Packing Corporation in New York City. Cafes and parlors can buy Sweet N’ Low in boxes of 50, 100, 250, 500, and 1,500 packets. Also, there are eight ounce boxes and eight ounce liquid bottles.

Splenda, www.splendafoodservice.com, is sold through Diamond Crystal Sales, LLC. For food service, Splenda comes in a "five pound Equivalent Bag;" 12/16-ounce canister; 500 and 2,000 Count Bulk Pack; a four/400-Count Dispenser Pack; a 12/100 Count Pack; and Splenda Sticks 2,000 Count Case.

Equal, www.equal.com, comes in a variety of forms. According to an Equal source, "Equal offers a case count for every operation, so you’ll always be able to get just the right amount. Smaller operations or those with multiple coffee stations will appreciate the flexibility the 100- and 200-count boxes offer. The larger 2,000-count boxes and the 500-count display boxes are a flexible choice for any size operation."

Equal also markets Equal Flavored Sweetener®, which is designed for coffee and tea. "[It] combines your favorite sweetener with delicious vanilla, lemon, or peach flavor," says an Equal source.

With this sweetener primer, you, as a food service operator in the tea and coffee industry know some of what’s out there for your customers to sweeten their next cup of java or tea. Now, you can let your customers decide which of the many options tastes best in their hot or cold beverage.

Wendy Komancheck freelances from her home in Pa. She writes about small business, agriculture, and tea. She’s always looking for story ideas. You can reach her at wendykomancheck@yahoo.com.

Tea & Coffee - August, 2007

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