Nestle SA says it found a way to reduce the amount of sugar in chocolate by as much as 40 percent, a discovery that may give the KitKat maker an edge as food producers face increasing pressure from governments, health advocates, and shoppers to make products healthier.

The world’s largest food company has developed a process to alter the structure of sugar that makes it taste sweeter in smaller amounts, according to Stefan Catsicas, the company’s chief technology officer, who declined to specify what that process involves. Nestle will start selling confectionery products made that way in 2018 and will gradually reduce their sugar content, Catsicas said in an interview.


Other big food companies, including Mondelez International Inc. and PepsiCo Inc., are scrambling to create healthier products to reduce their reliance on treats laden with sugar and salt. The move comes as the United Kingdom, Mexico, and some US cities implement sugar taxes to help fight childhood obesity and diabetes, which affects four times as many people now than in 1980. The World Health Organization has said increasing the price of sugary drinks by 20 percent would reduce consumption by a fifth.

“We want people to get used to a different taste, a taste that would be more natural,” Catsicas said. “We really want to be the drivers of the solution.”

Nestle is seeking to patent the sugar-reduction process, which Catsicas likened to making sugar crystals that are hollow. The crystals dissolve more quickly, stimulating the taste buds faster, he said. Unprocessed food has complex structures, which Nestle is trying to mimic by distributing the sugar in a less uniform way.

“If you look with an electron microscope into an apple, that’s exactly what you see,” said Nestle’s top researcher. “Real food in nature is not something smooth and homogeneous. It’s full of cavities, crests, and densities. So by reproducing this variability, we are capable to restore the same sensation.”


To avoid any sudden change in the taste of its chocolate, the company plans to use the new technology to reduce sugar content gradually, said Catsicas, a former biology professor and GlaxoSmithKline executive.