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Diageo takes subtle approach to lower sugar amid "seismic shift" in consumer tastes

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Diageo is using flavours and botanicals to lower sugar levels in its drinks as consumers get a taste for non-sweetened alcohol, according to the company's head of research & development.

Diageo has released brand extensions for Ketel One vodka that have lower levels of sugar but no artificial sweeteners

Diageo has released brand extensions for Ketel One vodka that have lower levels of sugar but no artificial sweeteners

Speaking to just-drinks today, Luca Lupini said Diageo has taken a "more subtle and sophisticated approach" to reducing sugar than simply using replacement sweeteners. North American brand extensions for Ketel One and Smirnoff vodkas use aromas and alternative botanicals to mask lowered sugar content.

"If you get that sweet-spot right," Lupini said, "you can pull it off very effectively."

Lupini said a "seismic shift" in consumer tastes has been taking place when it comes to sugar, especially in North America. 

"Consumers are acquiring a taste for products that don't have sugar or calories and don't have artificial sweeteners," Lupini explained. "In other words, they are acquiring a taste for products that are not sweet in general. That's an interesting and new direction."

Lupini pointed to the rise of the alcoholic seltzer category in the US as an example of shifting taste preferences. In 2016, Diageo launched Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer. Each can contains 90 calories and no sugar or artificial sweeteners.

"In the past, we would have tried to ameliorate the fact that we are not putting in sugar," Lupini said. "Now, the trend is that if you create a well-crafted product without any sweeteners in it, then consumers have met that trend."

Lupini said getting the balance right between lowering sugar and retaining an appealing flavour profile is difficult. 

"The consumer wants to have its cake and eat it, so to speak," he said.

Meanwhile, Diageo's global head of innovation, Michael Ward, said the group is continuing to push ahead with its commitment to putting nutritional information on all packaging. He said the project is in line with consumer demands for healthier lifestyles.

"We've seen real shifts in little bits of information that we would previously have tacked on the back label thinking the consumers didn't really care about it," Ward said. "That's now information they want to see on the front of the label. It's happening in food and it's certainly happening in drinks. That kind of transparency is good for the consumer."

First, they came for soft drinks... How the anti-sugar lobby will affect the alcohol industry - Click here for a just-drinks comment


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