Digital sugar reduction tool speeds up Merba reformulation

Chocolate chip cookies are the speciality of Banketbakkerij Merba in Oosterhout. As with all bakery products, sugar is essential for the taste and texture. The in-house R&D department made several attempts to reduce the sugar content, but this did not produce the desired texture. It was the perfect time to test the digital tool of Wageningen Food & Biobased Research.

Sugar reduction is not a black box. We are getting better at understanding how different ingredients such as starch, proteins, sugars, and fibres interact.
Stefano Renzetti

Dick de Kievid, R&D manager at Merba for many years: "When we reformulate, we need as many as ten recipes to come close to the original in texture and size. Getting the same bite and having it taste the same, those are the biggest challenges. It was impressive that the recipe calculated with the digital tool produced cookies that were close to the original in both sweetness and texture."

Digital reformulation

Senior researcher Stefano Renzetti has been working on sugar reduction in bakery products in Wageningen for years. He knows exactly which characteristics are affected by sugar. Depending on the type of product, these are sweetness, colour formation, viscosity of the dough (so that the cookies do not spread out too much during baking), texture, hardness, firming of gluten, and the prevention of starch gelation. "Sugar reduction is not a black box. We are getting better at understanding how different ingredients such as starch, proteins, sugars, and fibres interact, so our recommendations for reformulation are becoming more and more precise," says Renzetti.

All the knowledge about the technological and nutritional characteristics of bakery ingredients has been incorporated into a digital tool by researchers from Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. Legislative requirements for labelling can also be added, such as the Nutri-Score. Based on the ingredients of the existing product and the desired properties, the algorithm suggests a few promising alternative recipes. A food technologist assesses which is the most promising and the customer can use it for trial baking.

"We gave the researchers from Wageningen the basic recipe for chocolate chip cookies and asked for an alternative with 25% less sugar, without any preferences for the type of sugar substitutes or additional dietary fibre. We quickly came up with an alternative recipe," says De Kievid. "And because we were so enthusiastic about the cookies with reduced sugar, we had them tested by a sensory panel. The scores were very high; the tasters were just as satisfied as we were." As a final step, Wageningen experts analysed these products to assess whether they achieved the desired quality. Overall, the entire turnaround time for this sugar reduction with the digital tool was about two months.


Merba exports about 80% of its chocolate chip cookies and sells 75% under a private label. "I am sure that all our customers at home and abroad are interested in the cookies with less sugar," says De Kievid. "And now that the Nutri-Score will be introduced in the Netherlands soon, we can also immediately take this into account when reformulating. The tool is a real asset and saves us a lot of work."