Cross-country Asia team develops ‘world-first’ zero GI, zero calorie and prebiotic-enriched sugar replacement
The team is based across the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore and was established amidst the COVID-19 outbreak in May this year. Despite currently comprising just seven people, it has already done a soft launch of its first sugar replacement blend in the Philippines.
“The two main problems we saw when researching the sugar replacement space were either alternatives not tasting like sugar e.g. stevia having a weird aftertaste, or not measuring up in terms of cooking quantities, so consumers couldn’t use these as 1:1 replacements,” Swiftlet Chief Technology Officer Minh Le told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“So our approach was to create a blend of different ingredients that are currently already sold individually as sweetening sources to find that synergy so that their strengths and weaknesses could help to mask and complement one another, instead of just depending on one single ingredient.
“We’ve also made our product the first sugar replacement alternative to carry digestive health benefits as we’ve added prebiotics into the mix, which can help to improve the gut microbiome. The product is zero calories, zero sugar, zero-GI and we believe that this combination of benefits has not been done before.
“The aim is really for consumers to be able to have as much of it as they want without worrying about weight gain or a laxative effect, and on the other hand able to enjoy their favourite foods with the same taste, as the products tastes just like sugar.”
Le remained coy on the ingredients and ratios as the team is still seeking a patent for their formula, but revealed that all the items used for the blend are plant-based, natural, non-GMO and already sold individually on the market as food ingredients with the relevant food safety certifications e.g. GRAS.
The team has already done a soft launch for the product in the Philippines via direct sales, and plans to target both the B2B and B2C markets in the future.
“We believe that consumers definitely need to have this alternative at home on their tables and in their cupboards for direct usage, but it is also important for the food products they eat everyday to be using this or the impact won’t be as significant,” Swiftlet Head of Marketing Jake Jereza told us.
“So there are definitely plans to work with companies to have products containing this sugar alternative in the future, so that consumers will be able to benefit when eating store-bought products also.”
The Philippines was selected as the team’s testing ground due to the high local consumption of sugar and sugary foods, and Jereza added other countries in their sighs for the same reason moving forward include Thailand and Indonesia for now.
“Overweight and diabetes concerns are an issue for the entire Asian region though, so although nothing concrete has been set yet, expansion plans are definitely in the horizon,” he said.
Swiftlet’s sugar replacement blend is currently being retailed for PHP490 (US$10.17) for a 340g pack on its website.
COVID-19: Birth and challenges
Swiftlet was born right in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak – and mostly because of it too, according to Jereza and Le.
“Many of our family members were complaining about weight gain due to being locked down and home and it being exceptionally hard to resist the temptation of comfort food, which is why we decided to start the firm and produce something that would take away the negative effects of sugar but retain the taste,” they said.
That said, the challenges that came along with this decision were immense – unsurprisingly accompanied by numerous processing delays with government offices shut down, and logistical hurdles due to border closures.
“Being in charge of the tech and innovation but located in a different country was a big challenge – I had to do all the background research and formulate the base formula and chemistry then send this to our external manufacturer in the Philippines to do the testing,” said Le, who is based in Vietnam.
“There were a lot of calls and me asking them to describe the taste over the phone, what was lacking, etc. so it was a very different experience.”
Moving forth, the long-term foal for Swiftlet would be to have their own production plants in a few countries in Asia, then appointing distributors across the region, especially as the team has many product ideas in mind.
“We’re definitely looking at expanding our innovation lines – things like confectionery and beverages that are prime concern areas for sugar consumption and diabetes. We want to produce healthier Swiftlet versions of these,” said Le.
Further expansion of the current sugar replacement is also on the books, to enter more mainstream retail platforms.
“What we want to do is achieve ubiquity next, to increase accessibility and availability of the product for consumers,” said Jereza.
“This means getting into supermarkets, online stores and of course expanding to other countries as well. Swiftlet was partly named for the ubiquitous presence of swiftlets in a lot of Asian countries, and its connotations of flying high and free and of youth – and we intend to live up to that.”
We’ll be shining the spotlight on Reformulation and Fortification in our Growth Asia 2020 interactive broadcast series, and our previous session on Probiotics and Prebiotics is now available to watch on-demand. Register for free here to see both.