Deciding between low or no sugar?

To gain a better understanding of a consumer’s sugar preferences, not to be confused with sweet preferences, DSM Food Specialties, Heerlen, The Netherlands, conducted an international survey of 5,000 no-/low-sugar product users from Argentina, Australia, France, Mexico and the United States. The survey focused on four products: carbonated soft drinks, flavored water, juices and flavored yogurt.

“In every category, except soft drinks, consumers are slightly more likely to have bought a low-sugar option than a sugar-free option,” said Bibi Duyvesteyn, head of brand and communications. “It is in the soft drink category where demand for no-calorie options is highest.”

Globally, 41% of those surveyed have purchased no-sugar soft drinks compared to 33% who have purchased sugar-free flavored water and 20% who have purchased sugar-free juices. When looking at specific countries, Mexican consumers are the anomaly, with data showing they are more likely to have bought low-sugar soft drinks compared to those beverages with no sugar (28% vs 22%).

Another interesting finding relates to purchasing no-/low-sugar products for children, with Australians (19%) most likely to do so, followed by consumers in the United States (15%). This figure is 13% in Mexico and Argentina and 11% in France.

“Given that much commentary around the problems of obesity and diabetes focuses on children and the impact these conditions will have on today’s children as they grow older, it is perhaps surprising that the buying of no-/low-sugar products for children isn’t more common,” Ms. Duyvesteyn said. “Opportunities exist for manufacturers in creating child-friendly sugar-free or reduced-sugar options.”

Honest Tea recognized this opportunity a decade ago when it began development efforts to produce a lower-sugar juice beverage designed for children’s palates.

Seth Goldman, c.e.o. of Honest Tea.

“We went as low in sweetness as possible to make it ‘just good enough’ for that first taste,” Mr. Goldman said.

Introduced in May 2007, Honest Kids was one of the first organic children’s drinks packaged in a portable pouch. The drinks were designed to contain less than half the sugar and calories of other children’s drinks on the market while providing a day’s supply of vitamin C. Five years after rolling out, in efforts to make Honest Kids an even more attractive option, the company reformulated the beverage by removing the organic cane sugar and increasing the juice content. Honest Kids beverages now have between 30% to 42% juice, an increase of 12% to 26%, depending on variety. Nutritionally, the drinks remain at 40 calories per 6.75-oz pouch.

“We targeted a sweetness level that a child would find acceptable enough to finish the drink,” Mr. Goldman said. “Once they accept it, they become accustomed to that level of sweetness.”

Among today’s adults, it’s not surprising that data from the DSM survey show the most common reasons for choosing low- or no-sugar options relate to weight and health. Forty-nine per cent of the people surveyed said they chose low- or no-sugar options to lose or maintain weight. Globally, 42% said they made the choices because they were concerned about diabetes and 39% because they were concerned about a threat to their health.

“Interestingly, just 20% of respondents said that they preferred the taste of low-/no-sugar products,” Ms. Duyvesteyn said. “Although zero-calorie beverages have been available for many years, the challenge is to deliver to consumers guilt-free options that are still able to deliver a great taste.”