Concern over added sugars reshapes the sugar and sweetener market

Concern over added sugars reshapes the sugar and sweetener market

Our love-hate relationship with sugar and sweeteners is intensifying as concern about added sugars mounts and negative consumer sentiment related to zero calorie sweeteners is slow to wane.  Sugar, especially white granulated sugar, is being compared to tobacco and cigarettes in terms of the serious danger it poses to health, even being called toxic by some public health advocates.  Sugar is considered a culprit when it comes to obesity, rising rates of diabetes and, more recently, it is implicated as a factor in heart disease.  

As an indication of just how serious the concern over added sugars has become, the FDA has proposed a revision to nutrition labels that will specifically highlight the added sugars content of foods and beverages.  Generally, consumers agree that Americans consume too much sugar.  A national online consumer survey conducted by Packaged Facts in April 2014 found that 72% showed top 2 box agreement with the statement, “kids eat too much sugar” while 66% agreed that “adults eat too much sugar.”

Despite negative opinion and documented health issues associated with sugar, America’s sweet cravings persist and our collective sweet tooth is still looking to be satisfied.  When it comes to sugar and sweetener purchases for home use, some consumers are attempting to curb overall consumption and others are switching to types of sugar and alternate caloric sweeteners perceived as offering positive benefits, such as less refined, organic, or non-GMO sugar, honey and, more recently, coconut sugar. 

Honey is a clear bright spot among caloric sweeteners, experiencing double digit sales and volume growth in the past year.  In the April 2014 Packaged Facts online survey, 28% of consumers reported increasing their honey use over the past year or two.  Both the appeal and the opportunities for honey are great.  Consumers like that it is less processed and can be obtained from local sources with known producers and that it offers health benefits that include enzyme, antioxidant and antibacterial properties, along with vitamins and minerals. As a result of honey’s growing popularity, consumers are becoming more interested in a wider range of varietals and different forms, such as comb honey, whipped, and more spreadable types. 

Packaged Facts online survey found that 41% of consumers reported increasing their use of agave over the last year or two.  The popularity of agave nectar continues to grow as more flavored options are being introduced for specific uses, such as maple flavored for pancakes and waffles along with vanilla, cinnamon, blueberry, raspberry and strawberry flavors while amaretto, Irish crème and hazelnut flavors are being featured in agave sweeteners targeted for use in coffee and tea.  While some consumers perceive agave to be more healthful than other choices, this sweetener faces concerns from health professionals about its very high fructose content and association with inflammation. 

Although consumer sentiment about zero calorie sweeteners continues to be negative, even with natural stevia and monk fruit available, the 2014 Packaged Facts consumer survey shows that use appears to be growing, with 27% of consumers indicating they have increased their consumption in the past year or two.  Based on estimates for the expected increase in the number of diabetes diagnoses in the years ahead, it can be anticipated that consumers will find more love and acceptance for the sweet taste of zero calorie sweeteners as marketers make them available in a wider range of packaging configurations offering enhanced convenience for specific uses, such as for adding to cold beverages on-the-go. 

This blog is based on research featured in Packaged Facts’ Sugar, Sugar Substitute, and Sweetener Trends in the U.S., 4th Edition, published in May 2014.  Add this report to your own intelligence library and receive a 5% discount during our promotional period effective through November 1, 2014. Use code PF14SUGAR.

-- Elaine Tecklenburg