DANA POINT, CALIF – Consumers may be confused by the number of natural and artificial sweetener choices on the market, but their primary reason for choosing a sweetener is taste, said Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight with the Mintel Group, at the International Sweetener Colloquium in Dana Point on Feb. 24.

“There are so many choices consumers can make,” Ms. Dornblaser said. “It’s very hard for them to keep up.”

When selecting a low/no calorie sugar substitute, no aftertaste was the primary factor, she said, followed by sweetness and price, with 32% of those surveyed wanting “all natural” sweeteners.

“Consumers think less sugar means less taste and enjoyment,” she said, noting they are concerned about the aftertaste of some high-intensity sweeteners. As a result, she expects to see more sweetener blends on the market.

Among high-intensity sweeteners, sucralose led new product introductions in North America from 2001-13, she said, followed by Ace-K (acesulfame potassium) and aspartame, while Ace-K led in all other regions, followed mostly by aspartame.

Ms. Dornblaser noted strong growth in the use of stevia, especially in Europe, but added she expected much of the stevia growth to come at the expense of other high-intensity sweeteners, because it is perceived as more natural, rather than take market share from sugar.

Consumers look for products that are natural and have no artificial sweeteners, but balance that with good taste, she said.

Sugar does not necessarily illicit the negative response it used to, in part because it’s seen as a natural sweetener, Ms. Dornblaser said, but consumers want to limit it for a variety of reasons.

“Consumers aren’t afraid of sugar. They are only afraid of too much sugar,” she said.

Food manufacturers will need to offer products with meaningful sugar reductions without sacrificing taste, she told attendees at the Colloquium.

The percentage of new product introductions in North America in 2013 that claimed low/no/reduced sugar was 4% to 5% of total new product introductions, and it increased for the first time since 2008, Ms. Dornblaser said. 

“Consumers understand the idea of moderation,” Ms. Dornblaser said, citing data that showed 92% of consumers surveyed indicated living a healthy lifestyle “is all about moderation,” but many have difficulty practicing it.

Most consumers see reduced sodium and sugar content as an important attribute in packaged foods, she said, although taste remained the most important factor, followed by “satisfies appetite” and “good value,” all ranking from 80% to 90%, with “health issues” coming in under 60% and “natural” at just over 50%.