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Sugar and Sweeteners: Consumer Priorities Triggering Change

8/5/2021
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The huge media coverage over the last decade relating to sugar and the onset of non-communicable diseases makes it unsurprising that consumers are looking to reduce sugar intake. However, consumer reasoning for this is not solely rooted in a desire to see specific clinical benefits but stems from a belief that cutting sugar intake will increase general healthiness. As consumer attitudes increasingly see sugar as incompatible with health and wellness, brand owners are responding.

Sugar supersedes fat reduction and diet

There has been a shift in consumer food and dieting priorities; consumers who would previously have focused on fat content or diet are now increasingly looking into sugar reduction. “Eat less sugar” was cited by 53% of respondents to Euromonitor’s Voice of the Consumer: Health and Nutrition Survey in 2020 as their chosen method of weight loss.

Furthermore, in the same survey when asked about reasons to avoid sugar in 2020, the top answers were that it is “better for me to avoid it”, with 58% of respondents choosing this, followed by it “makes me feel healthier” chosen by 57% of respondents. These results show that consumers are choosing to avoid sugar with the desire to increase general wellness and for a feeling of healthiness. More consumers are prioritising the idea of feeling good, taking a proactive, long-term approach. This suggests that manufacturers targeting health-conscious consumers should look at methods to position their products as low in sugar.

% of Global Respondents by Reasons to Avoid Sugar

Source: Euromonitor Voice of the Consumer: Health and Nutrition Survey, fielded February 2020

Artificial sweeteners failing to win consumers’ hearts and minds

With consumers looking for products with low sugar, driven by the association between sugar reduction and wellness, it would seem that there is a strong opportunity for high-intensity sweeteners in products where technical limitations are not present, particularly beverages.

However, despite this, consumers are keen to avoid high-intensity sweeteners, rather than seeing them as a solution. Most commercially available high-intensity sweeteners are artificial and when asked what ingredients or labels they looked for on food and drink labels, 31% of respondents to Euromonitor’s Voice of the Consumer: Health and Nutrition Survey looked for “does not contain artificial sweeteners”. This was the fourth most popular response and was once more consistent across geographies.

When discussing high-intensity sweeteners in the last decade, it is impossible to ignore stevia, which brought a great new opportunity due to its natural origin, in line with the demand of clean label and natural ingredients. However, while the use of stevia and other natural sweeteners does not dissuade consumers from purchasing products, in the way inclusion of other artificial high-intensity sweeteners does, their use is also not a driving factor that persuades consumers to make a purchase.

While natural sweeteners are acceptable, the new consumer ideal and perfect scenario for manufacturers seems to be to maximise the appeal of a product without using any additional sweetening ingredients.

Manufacturers and consumers alike see the value of “no added sugar” claims

Consumers want reassurance that sweetness is derived from intrinsic ingredients as far as possible so the “no added sugar” positioning is valued and increasingly embraced by manufacturers.

Globally, the no added sugar claim was more prevalent in soft drinks than packaged food in 2019. Juice was the soft drinks category with the biggest proportion of claims, at 4%. Juice is a category with huge potential to appeal to health-conscious consumers; however, products have come under scrutiny for their contribution to sugar consumption. As such it is unsurprising that more products are looking to assure consumers that they contain only necessary sugar content.

In packaged food and indeed overall, baby food had the biggest proportion of no added sugar claims, at 5%. Consumers increasingly believe that avoiding sugar is important for the general healthiness of children, so these claims are likely to provide reassurance.

Overall, however, the proportion of products using the no added sugar claim is still low, despite clear signs the claim complements current consumer attitudes towards sugar. This would suggest increased adoption of the claim could be seen going forward. Other claims such as “no sugar” or “low sugar” can also grow in popularity in light of consumer desire to avoid this ingredient.

Top 10 Categories with No Added Sugar Claim in Packaged Food and Soft Drinks

Source: Euromonitor Product Claims and Positioning

It is worth noting that certain categories, where sugar is less of a concern, still use the no added sugar claim, e.g. 1% of both processed fruit and vegetables and bottled water products in 2020 used the claim. With these products less likely to use sugar regardless, using the claim informs consumers and differentiates from sugar-sweetened items.

Future direction: Understanding consumers is key for manufacturer’s action on sugar

As a growing number of consumers forgo sugar, manufacturers must decide whether sugar reduction is worthwhile. Reformulation could endanger the taste that made the product attractive in the first place, while inaction could see consumers move to a category perceived as being healthier. Finding the right balance on this front would be key to future success.

In recognition of consumer sugar concerns, the prevalence of claims such as “no added sugar”, “no sugar” and “low sugar” are likely to grow as manufacturers aim to reassure consumers and differentiate themselves.

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