- In a recent survey, the U.K.'s Food Standards Agency found that consumers are more concerned with the sugar levels in their food than the price of the product, according to Food Navigator. The survey showed that 55% of people are worried about how much of the sweetener is in their food, rising from 39% in 2010.
- Product price was the top issue of concern for 50% to 60% of survey respondents between 2010 and 2015, but the latest survey shows that figure has dipped down to 43%, Food Navigator reported.
- In other survey findings, the number of U.K. consumers concerned about food waste jumped to 51% this year from the previous 42%; 45% said they were worried about food safety in restaurants, bars, cafes and takeaways; 43% were concerned about food safety in shops and supermarkets; and 42% said they were worried about animal welfare.
While these FSA survey results are significant, they also point to mixed consumer sentiments about sugar. The U.K. government, for example, instituted a tax on most sugary beverages effective April 6, yet a recent Nielsen study cited by Food Navigator found 62% of consumers haven't changed their purchasing habits as a result. In fact, 11% said before the tax that they intended to quit drinking sugary beverages, but only 1% said the same after the tax. And consumers who said they planned to keep buying such drinks jumped from 31% before the tax to 44% afterward.
In the U.S., sugar also leads the pack of ingredients consumers fret over. Much of this fear stems from growing consumer awareness that sugar comes with empty calories and can contribute to obesity and diabetes. According to Mintel, 84% of Americans are trying to reduce the amount of sugar in their diet, and 79% check labels to see what types of sugar or other sweeteners a product contains. Starting in 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require that added sugars be listed on product packaging as part of the updated Nutrition Facts label, so there will be even more information available about the ingredient.
Previously, the public's nutritional focus was on limiting sodium and saturated fats, which are still matters of concern today, but sugar is definitely in the spotlight. Despite this, though, consumers appreciate a sweet taste, and they prefer to get it from natural sources.
Food manufacturers, especially those in the confection space, have been trying to reduce the amount of sugar in their products for a while now. Many companies are reformulating their recipes with alternative natural sweeteners such as stevia, monk fruit and allulose. The question is whether these options can actually deliver on the sweetness consumers crave without an undesirable aftertaste, unacceptably high prices or other problems.
Nestlé has been working on sugar reduction for some time and debuted a chocolate bar containing its patented fast-dissolving "aerated, porous sugar" product this past spring in the U.K. and Ireland. The company's Milkybar Wowsomes product is said to contain no artificial sweeteners and is labeled as having 30% less sugar.
Manufacturers marketing their sugars as "natural" or offering other value-adds such as no-calorie sweeteners could potentially change consumer perceptions about sugar and sweeteners in general, which could improve profits. According to Nielsen figures, sales of foods and beverages with zero-calorie sweeteners and no artificial sweeteners jumped 16% last year.
Some food companies are also developing "nature-identical" sweeteners to capture the most desirable sweetness from plants like stevia in a more sustainable way. Consumers may balk at these ingredients because they were made in a laboratory, but if manufacturers manage to create a true sugar equivalent, shoppers could be willing to overlook their man-made origins.