PARIS – Europeans’ preferences for how products are sweetened sound a lot like the preferences of Americans. Europeans increasingly are seeking products with no added sugar, and they want clean label sweetener alternatives, meaning ingredients they recognize, said Emma Schofield, senior analyst for global food science for Mintel, in a Dec. 3 presentation at Food Ingredients Europe in Paris.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will begin mandating the labeling of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Label Jan. 1. Ms. Schofield pointed to Mintel data showing European concern for added sugars. When asked the most important factor in a better-for-you carbonated soft drink, no added sugar came in first in Spain at 38%, first in France at 35% and first in Italy at 34%. In Poland, no added sugar and low in sugar tied for the top spot, both at 28%. The top answer in Germany was low in sugar at 34%, which was followed by no added sugar at 26%.

Companies probably will consider several different angles in sugar reduction, Ms. Schofield said. Should they reduce sugar in an original product or introduce a new product with lower sugar instead?

“There are different strategies to take, depending on the category, the occasion and perhaps the frequency at which the product is consumed,” Ms. Schofield said.

European consumers might accept taste sacrifices in products perceived as healthy such as yogurt drinks, but not accept taste differences in indulgent categories like chocolate bars, cakes and ice cream.

Claims related to no added sugar are popular in snack/cereal/energy bars as 17% of those products launched in Europe in 2014-19 had such claims, according to Mintel. The percentages were lower in indulgent categories, including 3% in desserts and ice creams, 2% in sweet biscuits/cookies, 2% in chocolate, and 1% in cakes, pastries and sweet goods.

Europeans said they believe reducing sugar in products means increasing the amount of artificial ingredients, Ms. Schofield said.

“Sometimes with the sugar-free, no-sugar, low/reduced-sugar products, consumers are of the belief that sugar is taken out, and other things that they do not really know are the ingredients put back in,” she said. 

When asked whether they believed products labeled as low/reduced sugar contain more artificial ingredients, 53% of people in France said yes. Other percentages were Germany at 52%, Poland at 54%, Italy at 38% and Spain at 42%.

Companies should raise the profile of ingredients used to reduce sugar and build consumer familiarity with the ingredients, she said. One example in Germany was Schoko-Nuss-Crème items containing xylitol from birch and beech tree bark.

Ms. Schofield pointed to Mintel data showing Europeans’ overall concern for sugar. When asked their nutrient of top concern, low sugar content came in No. 1 in Germany at 45%, No. 1 in Spain at 45%, No. 1 in Poland at 43% and No. 1 in France 35%. Other categories were high fiber content, high protein content, low fat content and low salt content. In Italy, low fat content was first at 43%, followed by low sugar content at 37%.

“You see consumers perhaps putting fat further back in their minds, and sugar is very much in the moment,” she said. “Consumers are more concerned about sugar than fat.”