Avoidance of sugar remains macro trend

by Ron Sterk
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Sugar avoidance
Sugar avoidance is a macro trend that seems to only be growing.

ORLANDO, FLA. — Speakers addressing consumer trends at the International Sweetener Colloquium in Orlando on Feb. 13 said sugar avoidance was a macro trend “that is here to stay and will only increase,” adding that younger consumers also are avoiding artificial sweeteners but that “more natural” stevia has tremendous growth potential.

“We see tremendous upside for stevia and believe there is market space for other ‘more natural’ alternatives to sugar,” Chris von der Linden, senior vice-president, Consumer Shopper Marketing, and John Crawford, vice-president, Client Insights-Dairy, with Information Resources Inc. (I.R.I.), said in a joint presentation at the Colloquium. Stevia has delivered more than any other alternative sweetener on “not sugar and not artificial,” they concluded, based on data over the 52 weeks ended Dec. 31, 2017.

Chris von der Linden, I.R.I.
Chris von der Linden, senior vice-president of Consumer Shopper Marketing

Mr. von der Linden said younger consumers through Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) favor stevia and sugar alcohols while older generations, often on low-sugar diets, are more likely to purchase items with aspartame and sucralose.

Further, consumer brands made more “naturally sweetened” claims and reduced claims of artificially sweetened in 2017, they said, although Mr. Crawford pointed out that yogurt as a category was adding to consumer confusion about “good” versus “bad” sweeteners as it is offered in varying forms from “naturally sweetened” to “artificially sweetened” to “made with sugar” to “no sugar added,” among others.

I.R.I. surveys show that 58% of consumers across generations are avoiding sugar, Mr. von der Linden said, with 50% avoiding adding sugar to their food and beverages and 30% avoiding consuming products with sugar in the ingredient list. Of those avoiding sugar, 85% are doing so for health reasons and 58% for weight concerns.

Yogurt sweeteners
The yogurt category has added to consumer confusion about "good" versus "bad" sweeteners.

Many consumers are consciously monitoring sugar intake, but most are not following a specific eating plan, Mr. von der Linden said. An estimated 45% check the number of grams of sugar in a product before buying it, while 55% check to see what kind of sweetener is used.

Ninety per cent of consumers indicated they had purchased sugar in the past 12 months, with 73% having purchased honey, which is viewed as the “best for you” sugar alternative, Mr. von der Linden said. At the same time, most consumers had not bought artificial or alternative sweeteners or products containing, with high-fructose corn syrup at 32%, Splenda at 24%, stevia at 20% and all others below 17%.

I.R.I. surveys showed sugar and Splenda purchases were expected to decline in the next 12 months, while stevia and honey purchases were seen growing.

John Crawford, I.R.I.
John Crawford, vice-president of Client Insights - Dairy for I.R.I.

In the 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2017, stevia with a gain of 20% was the only product to show growth in alternative sweetener claims, Mr. Crawford said, compared to declines of 24% for aspartame, 9% for sucralose and 5% for sugar alcohols, with the overall alternative sweetener category down 6% with sales of $2.4 billion.

Consumers rated honey at 73% “better for you than sugar,” compared with 43% for stevia and 3% for HFCS, which had 80% as “worse for you than sugar,” according to the I.R.I. data presented.

Mr. Crawford said 44% of consumers classified as healthy eaters cite low in sugar as a consideration when buying food and beverages, second only to fresh/not processed at 52%.

Stevia claims were small but growing in the carbonated beverage, chocolate candy and juice sectors, Mr. Crawford said, with beverages being by far the largest segment for stevia with $46.8 million in sales and yogurt the next closest at $5.5 million. 
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