Sreejith Ethiraj, a techie, was a regular visitor to Adyar Anand Bhavan, the famous A2B chain of sweets and savouries in Chennai until he was diagnosed with diabetes this January. For six months, he cut back on his sweets. But this June when he visited the store on a lark, he was pleasantly surprised to see that it had Stevia sweets. Ethiraj may have to pay 40 per cent more for sweets that are good for him, but he is not complaining. He would rather pay more for a sugar alternative than pay for bad health later.
Meanwhile, Swati Pandey, an Indian health food entrepreneur, and a Mechanical engineer from IIT Delhi with a master’s in business from London believes that replacing sugar with healthier alternatives has vast potential. “We want to remove 3.5 trillion calories from the global diet in the next five years,” says Pandey, rather ambitiously.
The co-founder of the Lucknow-based natural sugar reduction solution startup Arboreal Bio innovations believes that fighting the sweet monster called sugar is the way forward. With the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) predicting in June that three new cases of diabetes will emerge every 10 seconds in India in the next eight years, she thinks there is a lot of ground to be covered in India alone.
This time around, startups such as Pandey’s are targeting food businesses and not retail consumers to bring out the change. Steven David, the founder of Eatomania, a Bengaluru-based bakery chain with eight outlets in the city says, “I lost my 40-year-old son to diabetes in 2019. He had a sweet tooth. I want my customers to have healthier alternatives. Now, I order 20 kg of stevia every month for my bakeries.” While there are multiple alternatives such as aspartame, maltose, sucralose and xylitol, Stevia stands tall, especially in India. This is because the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) permitted the use of stevia in food and beverages in 2015.
By the end of 2022, the FSSAI is expected to come up with a traffic light labelling measure (red, yellow and green) with red spots being used to warn of high fat, sugar or salt content in packaged foods. This will affect the placement of the products in supermarkets. “Food brands will now have to reduce the usage of sugar or switch to stevia to survive,” Pandey informs.
Pandey’s company works with smallholder farmers on 250 acres in rural Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand to grow the right variety of stevia, which is then processed using its proprietary technology
to create a white powder/solution. This is further formulated for it to blend well with packaged foods.
Ranjith Joglekar, CEO of the Nagpur-based food company Indian Delights, has opened a separate kitchen for sweets with sugar alternatives. Soan Papdi and Bhakarwadi are bestsellers and he is now producing them for his online customers. “Alternative sugars are sweet news for those like us,” he says.
“We want to remove 3.5 trillion calories from the global diet in the next five years… In the coming times, brands will have to reduce the usage of sugar to survive.”
Co-founder, Arboreal Bioinnovations