Going low: Low-GI sugar firm rides high with launch in new markets on back of Malaysian success

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

Singapore healthier sugar firm Nutrition Innovation is riding on consumer demand for healthier, less-refined products, especially post-COVID-19. ©CSR
Singapore healthier sugar firm Nutrition Innovation is riding on consumer demand for healthier, less-refined products, especially post-COVID-19. ©CSR

Related tags Low gi Sugar Malaysia

Singapore healthier sugar firm Nutrition Innovation is riding on consumer demand for healthier, less-refined products, especially post-COVID-19, to launch in several new markets as well as push a new commercial sugar variety.

Along with Malaysian partner Central Sugars Refinery (CSR), Nutrition Innovation’s low-GI sugar marketed under the brand Better Brown has seen massive success in Malaysia, capturing 33% of the local brown sugar market.

Better Brown is a healthier, non-refined version of cane sugar produced using Nutrition Innovation technology​ to retain antioxidants and release energy into the body more slowly to prevent weight gain, obesity and corresponding health issues.

Its processing retains natural molasses and caramels, making it 10% sweeter than regular brown sugar but with more aroma and flavour, and as such consumers are also generally advised to use 10% less of this sugar, said Nutrition Innovation CEO Matthew Godfrey.

“Better Brown has managed to capture 33% or one-third of the local brown sugar segment in modern trade (hypermarkets, supermarkets) by offering a healthier version of crystalline raw sugar that is priced comparably to regular sugar – 1kg of Better Brown is RM3.80 (US$0.91), whereas regular sugar is around RM3.00 (US$0.72) per kg,”​ he told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“This is also due to current consumer demands for healthier, less-refined, lower-GI alternatives, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak where a lot of people were eating at home and doing home baking too.

“There was a lot more interest in staple products such as sugar, and renewed focus on the quality and health of foods. We benefitted from this in the sense that we were able to provide consumers with a healthier choice at a time when they needed it.”

Better Brown is currently available in some 14,000 stores across Malaysia including most modern trade outlets such as Cold Storage, Giant and Isetan.

Riding on this wave, Nutrition Innovation and CSR have also launched into new markets such as Singapore, New Zealand and Canada.

“Our launch into Singapore had very much the same viewpoint and price point as in Malaysia – it’s selling for SG$2.55 per kg at Haomart stores, as the belief is that this needs to be affordable for people to buy it,”​ said Godfrey.

“We have also launched into New Zealand and Canada where we have existing partnerships with New Zealand Natural Sugars and Enerfo Sugars – it was a natural extension, [especially as] the current situation has given rise to an interest in healthier sugar options in these markets as well.”

Godfrey is also looking to bring Better Brown to the Middle Eastern market, given how well it has already done in Malaysia’s predominantly Muslim market.

“Better Brown is certified halal, and Malaysia has done very well in terms of positioning as a centre of excellence for strategic and quality halal product exports to the Middle East, so we want to capitalise on that too,”​ he said.

“CSR has just completed work on a new facility in Padang Terap, Kedah which we consulted on, where Better Brown and our new product Commercial Brown will be produced, so we now have the volumes to look to more and further export markets.”

Commercial Brown – brown sugar but better

Nutrition Innovation also just launched its new B2B-focused brown sugar Commercial Brown in Malaysia earlier this month, which is more focused on what Godfrey called a ‘business problem’ for all food manufacturers that need to buy and use brown sugar.

“A lot of the time, brown sugar is made from refined sugar which then has molasses added back to it for colour – this results in very high moisture levels and is very high in energy utilisation, making this type of brown sugar relatively expensive as well as causing it to perform poorly in a bulk environment,”​ he said.

“If the moisture levels get too high, these could even set like concrete, which is obviously not ideal especially if you’re a food manufacturer or other type of food firm and purchase larger bags. So we developed Commercial Brown for use at the industrial level, which is a normal brown sugar (not low-GI) that is low-moisture to solve the moisture problem.

“Commercial Brown is also less processed and less-refined, tying back into earlier consumer trends. This also maintains the natural minerals in the sugar such as calcium, potassium and magnesium, and we thought it would be great to leave as much of these in as possible during the process.

“CSR has already been sampling this with local food manufacturers and shipped some internationally to test the waters too, but it’s only been a week so nothing is set in stone yet.”

Commercial Brown is also halal-certified, but has not yet been priced although Godfrey said that it has been designed to be ‘less premium than Better Brown, more efficient and affordable’​ as it does not have the low-GI properties, so it will not be more expensive.

NPD and innovation

Moving forward, Nutrition Innovation is also looking into the development of what has been deemed ‘NX powder’, a shift into the functional foods space.

“NX powder will look into how we can tap on phytochemicals and polyphenols to formulate ingredients for functional benefits including anti-diabetic, anti-inflammation and even anti-anxiety,”​ Godfrey said.

“Our focus for the near future will very much be on the applications of NX powder and its benefits, whether it be into over-the-counter supplements, products with a microbiome focus or to improve gut-brain access, things like that and how to best utilise the polyphenols in sugarcane.”

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