The race for reformulation: Making Latin America's food healthier at Food Tech Summit

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Thanasis Zovoilis
© GettyImages/Thanasis Zovoilis

Related tags: sugar reduction, Fiber, reformulation, Nutrition labelling

From sugar reduction to fiber fortification, LATAM manufacturers are increasingly under pressure to make their products healthier. We caught up with some suppliers at this year's Food Tech Summit in Mexico City to find out more.

“We are seeing sugar reduction becoming increasingly important for the food industry,” ​said Emma Schofield, senior food analyst at Mintel, "and this is great if you’re a manufacturer of sugar reduction solutions. This is driven in part at least by the regulatory departments and health departments across the globe because of the health concerns linked to high sugar consumption, which is rising in many places.”

Although consumers are increasingly drawn to healthier foods with a lower sugar content, manufacturers face the challenge of reducing the sugar content without compromising taste, Schofield added.

Naturalness and clean label were hot topics at Food Tech Summit this year. While Latin America remains price-sensitive and the market for artificial ingredients is strong, several suppliers noted how the region’s food policymakers are bringing about increased awareness of the ingredients used in processed foods.

According to Juan Maldonado, president of Doehler Latin America, consumers’ changing perceptions are happening in real-time, driven by the wave of front-of-pack nutrition labels across Latin America, which means they are looking at ingredient lists more closely than ever before. 

Ecuador already has traffic light labeling system while stark, black and white warning labels are in place in Chile and Peru and will come into force in Uruguay next year. The Mexican government is due to vote on warning labels next month and Brazilian authorities look likely to adopt warning labels too. Argentinian policy-makers have said they are considering a ‘hybrid’ nutrition label based on both the warning model and guideline daily amounts (GDA).

Doehler was presenting its sugar reduction ingredients in important categories for the Mexican market, such as soda and soft drinks. Guadalajara-headquartered company IIDEA, meanwhile, uses the blue agave plant to make food ingredients such as agave syrup and agave powder that can be used as sweeteners, inulin fiber as well as tequila.

Producing around 100 tons of certified organic agave syrup a week, it said agave syrup can match the functionality of sugar but has a lower glycemic index and consumers see it as more natural.

Currently, around 80% of the company’s sales come from exports, mostly to Europe, the US, and Asia but sales in Mexico and the rest of Latin America are on the rise, it said.

It has also noted a growing interest in its agave inulin fiber, which makes up about one-fifth of its food ingredient sales. There is particular interest in how it creates a healthier gut microbiome by raising the levels of bifidobacterium, said its head of R&D, Jorge Becerra.

According to chicory inulin supplier Beneo, digestive wellness is a trend that has really taken off in the US and has now spread to neighboring Mexico.

Prebiotics are really living a second revival,” ​said Thomas Weber, sales manager in Mexico. “There’s a lot of new science out there​.”

Interest in prebiotic claims has really increased in the past year and a half here ​[in Mexico]. Inulin oligo-fructose is the only naturally derived prebiotic fiber on the market and we use them because the trends are [for] sugar reduction and enrichment of fiber, which inulin can achieve,” ​he said.

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