Consumer acceptance of natural sweeteners in protein beverages.J Dairy Sci. 2018 Oct; 101(10):8875-8889.JD
Protein beverage consumption by Americans has increased in recent years. Coupled with this increased consumption is an interest in natural sweeteners. The objective of this study was to evaluate the sensory properties of naturally sweetened ready-to-mix (RTM) whey protein beverages using 3 temporal methods and to formulate a natural noncaloric sweetener blend that could be added to RTM protein beverages to provide sweetness while still appealing in flavor to consumers. Iso-sweet concentrations of sweeteners (sucralose, sucrose, fructose, stevia, monk fruit) in RTM vanilla whey protein beverages (25 g of protein/360 mL of water) were established using magnitude estimation scaling and 2-alternative forced-choice testing. Temporal sensory profiling was then conducted on each beverage by a trained panel using time intensity, temporal dominance of sensations, and temporal check-all-that-apply. These findings were used to formulate natural sweetener blends that closely matched the temporality of sucrose-sweetened RTM vanilla protein beverages for consumer testing. One sugar-free blend (25% stevia/75% monk fruit) and 1 reduced-sugar blend (25% stevia/25% monk fruit/50% fructose) were selected for consumer testing (n = 150 consumers) in addition to 3 control RTM beverages containing sucralose, stevia, or monk fruit. Two distinct consumer clusters were identified. The label-conscious segment of consumers preferred beverages sweetened with natural blends when primed. The flavor-driven segment of consumers conceptually preferred naturally sweetened beverages but preferred sucralose-sweetened beverages when primed. An all-natural label claim was most preferred across all consumers. Application of these findings to commercially produced RTM protein beverages aids in the development of naturally sweetened protein beverages with reduced calories and desirable sensory properties and highlights the importance of label claims to consumers overall but to a label-conscious segment of consumers in particular.