LAS VEGAS — Americans have a complicated relationship with sugar. Most seek to avoid it, but many don’t necessarily prefer alternative options, said Joseph Clayton, chief executive officer of The International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC).
|Joseph Clayton, c.e.o. of IFIC|
“Americans are split on low-calorie sweeteners,” Mr. Clayton said during a presentation at IFT17, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition, held June 26-28 in Las Vegas. “The interesting point here is if you are a low- or no-calorie sweetener fan, the biggest reason why you’re (choosing) it is because you want to avoid sugar. If you are a sugar fan, the biggest reason is because you don’t trust low- or no-calorie sweeteners. That’s an interesting dichotomy there.”
A third of Americans, up from 25% in 2016, said sugars are most likely to cause weight gain, Mr. Clayton said. Weight-conscious consumers are shifting from low-fat to low-sugar or low-carb diets, said Stephanie Mattucci, associate director, food science at Mintel International.
|Stephanie Mattucci, associate director, food science, Mintel International|
“Thirty-one per cent of consumers agree that you lose more weight by eliminating sugar in your diet than by eliminating fat,” Ms. Mattucci said during a presentation at IFT17. “Additionally, 24% of consumers who are trying to lose weight agree that low-fat foods have a higher sugar content.”
This swing in consumer attitudes is driving companies to reduce sugar content through various approaches. Organic yogurt maker Stonyfield, for example, has developed a formulation that reduces tartness and balances the sweetness of yogurt, requiring the use of less sugar. Through the use of a cold-filtration process and the addition of lactase enzyme, The Coca-Cola Co.’s fairlife milk brand has 50% less sugar than traditional milk while achieving a sweet taste. Nestle S.A. recently announced its scientists have discovered how to structure sugar crystals so the tongue perceives a nearly identical sweetness when much less sugar is used. This patent-pending finding could lead to a 40% reduction in sugar in Nestle’s chocolate products.
Sugar-related claims have shown strong growth in global product launches, according to research from Innova Market Insights. New products with no added sugar have increased 21% in the past five years.
|Kara Nielsen, manager of sales and engagement USA at Innova Market Insights|
"Other claims include ‘sugar free’ and ‘low sugar,’” said Kara Nielsen, manager of sales and engagement USA at Innova Market Insights, during a presentation at IFT17. “All are growing, and we expect that to continue.”
However, as Ms. Mattucci noted, some consumers may be skeptical when they see a low- or no-sugar claim on packaging.
“Over a third of U.S. consumers agree products labeled reduced sugar often contain a lot of artificial sweeteners, and 37% think food and drink products should show more clearly if they contain artificial sweeteners,” Ms. Mattucci said. “When consumers are shopping for healthy foods, not only are they avoiding sources of sugar like high-fructose corn syrup and sugar itself, but they’re also looking to avoid artificial sweeteners. This is true for overall consumers and for consumers watching their weight.”
Nearly half of U.S. consumers believe diet soda is as unhealthy as regular soda, Ms. Mattucci said.
“Part of this comes down to the concerns about health and naturalness … but it also is about taste,” she said. “Only 19% of U.S. consumers agree that artificial sweeteners taste good in food and drink products when compared to sugar, so there are lots of opportunities to improve the taste of those products as well.”