Consumers are taking active steps to manage sugar consumption. Some are opting to cook at home, control portion sizes or purchase fewer packaged foods and beverages, according to research from Kerry, Beloit, Wisconsin. Others are opting for reduced- and no-sugar products or switching to alternative sweetening agents.

Diets that endorse a very low sugar-intake lifestyle, such as ketogenic, paleo and Whole30, have gained popularity among younger Americans, and the momentum is projected to continue. This makes meat and poultry, which tends to be mostly protein with some fat, attractive meal and snack options.

The Kerry research was an online survey of 760 US adults conducted in June 2018. The data showed that nearly one in five Americans have switched to consuming salty/savory products in efforts to reduce sugar intake, with 17 percent avoiding sugar entirely.

Sugar, in its many forms and sources, including granulated cane sugar, honey and maple syrup, is typically present in very low levels, if at all, in meat and poultry. This includes everything from marinated fresh chicken breast to uncooked bacon to beef jerky. Pork products tend to contain the most, as sugar is a characterizing sweet flavor in honey baked ham and maple breakfast sausage.

While sugar is often used in large quantities in curing, the residual amount that remains tends to be miniscule enough that it does not appear in the Nutrition Facts. But it is still on the ingredient statement and for some strict sugar avoiders, that’s a deal breaker.

Sugar has multiple functions in chemically cured and uncured meat and poultry, as well as many smoked and dried products. Sugar dehydrates, while it also helps retain moisture throughout processing and storage. In comminuted products, sugar may stabilize the emulsion of moisture, fat and protein. Sugar also balances salt and sour/fermented tastes. It even assists with the development, and retention, of appealing color through the Maillard browning reaction, which involves reducing sugars and amino acids, and caramelization, which mostly involves enzymatic breakdown of non-reducing sugars. To eliminate sugar from the ingredient statement, as well as have added sugars be zero on the Nutrition Facts, formulators have to explore their toolbox of flavoring and seasoning ingredients that exert functions that resemble sugar.

That’s what companies such as Tillamook Country Smoker, Tillamook Oregon, are doing. At this year’s National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) trade show held in Las Vegas on Oct. 7-10, the company debuted Zero Sugar Jerky in black pepper and original varieties.

“The low and no-sugar movement is steadfastly making its way into convenience stores, and we saw an opportunity to lead the charge within the snacking category,” said Shane Chambers, CEO. “We worked hard to create a product that is packed with the flavor we are known for and clean, simple ingredients consumers are demanding.”

Zero Sugar Jerky is made with 100 percent premium US beef and real hardwood smoke. The smoke, along with soy sauce and natural flavorings enables the product to be made with no added sugar.

“Our customers were asking for a product like this,” Chambers said. “Our use of a natural wood smoking process prevents the jerky from drying out, which is what traditional cooking processes do. And that’s why they rely on sugar.” 

By creating a clean-label jerky with no artificial ingredients nor sugars and carbohydrates, Tillamook Country Smoker joins snack industry pioneers who are paving the way for improved consumer health, particularly in the convenience store channel, which is making strides toward better-for-you snacking and food options. Made with simple, time-tested ingredients, the new Zero Sugar Jerky is perfect for active lifestyles, and paleo and keto diets, as each serving is packed with 14 grams of protein.

Applegate, subsidiary of Hormel Foods

About a year ago, Hormel Foods subsidiary, Applegate, Bridgewater, New Jersey, rolled out Applegate Naturals No Sugar Bacon, joining the company’s growing portfolio of sugar-free meats. In addition to being void of sugar, all the brand’s products contain no antibiotics ever, no artificial ingredients and no chemical nitrites or nitrates.

“With a growing demand for sugar-free options, we’re excited to deliver a bacon that supports the needs of those looking to reduce their sugar intake, while upholding Applegate values of making products with humanely raised meats and simple ingredients,” said Nicole Glenn, vice president of marketing. “Providing worry-free meats people want to eat is vital to us and this new bacon is a product we’re proud to offer.”

With many prepared meats and poultry, it is possible to reduce or eliminate added sugars through the use of flavors that provide sweetness. Fruit powders and juices serve as natural sources of sweetness. With marinades and sauces, non-nutritive sweeteners, such as stevia, monkfruit and some sugar alcohols, can be used to partially or fully replace added sugars. And, with heat-and-eat foods, an easy way to reduce added sugars is to simply use less. Many meals contain an abundance of sauce, as it’s an economical way to increase package weights.