By Chris Prentice
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. yogurt maker Dannon, a unit of France's Danone <DANO.PA>, is looking at ways to make its products less sweet, in the latest industry response to rising concerns about excessive sugar consumption.
The company, whose brands include Dannon, Oikos and Activia, is working with the American Heart Association and other health groups to find ways to reduce sugar after having cut the sweetener in most of its products to 23 grams or less per six-ounce serving, executives said at press conference on Thursday.
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"We're going to look at things like that," Philippe Caradec, Dannon's vice president of corporate affairs, said in an interview after the conference.
Yogurt manufacturers are taking such steps as government officials and nutritionists heighten their calls to reduce sugar intake in a bid to battle epidemics such as obesity.
This year, the U.S. government for the first time recommended Americans limit their sugar intake and decreed that nutrition labels include added sugars.
The American Heart Association is even more stringent. The group advises people to eat yogurt with no more than 20 grams of sugar in a six-ounce serving. That would mean a cut of another 3 grams per serving for many of Dannon's products.
Yogurt sales have surged in recent years, more than doubling to 2.3 million tonnes since 2001, according to data from Euromonitor Ltd.
In January, the U.S. government recommended a diet rich in fat-free or low-fat dairy foods like yogurt. Nutritionists have criticized yogurt makers for what they consider excessive levels of added sweeteners, on top of the natural sugar from milk used to make the product.
Increasing choice and transparency are top priorities for Dannon, company Chief Executive Mariano Lozano said at the press conference, as the White Plains, New York-based company rolled out low-sugar Dannon and Oikos products with no genetically engineered ingredients, known as GMOs.
The products use evaporated cane juice and non-GMO starch instead of GMO beet sugar and starch. The company has said it plans to overhaul its supply chain to use milk from cows fed with non-GMO animal feed.
Facing a consumer backlash, Dannon has joined other food companies in switching to cane sugar instead of sugar from beet.
(Reporting by Chris Prentice; Editing by Richard Chang)