Is it really natural?
Thirty-seven per cent of U.S. consumers seek natural sweetener claims when selecting sweetened food and beverage products, according to Innova Market Insights, but as Mintel’s Ms. Mattucci pointed out, consumer perceptions of natural sweeteners may vary.
“We asked consumers what they thought about natural sweeteners … and millennials were more likely than other generations to think that these ingredients were bad for their health,” she said. “In fact, 18% of millennials agreed natural sweeteners are bad for their health, compared to only 6% of Gen Xers and only 5% of baby boomers. It will be important to keep educating consumers about these ingredients and to not be misleading about their origins to really keep them engaged with these products.”
In addition to stevia, non-nutritive sweeteners with a natural positioning such as monk fruit, xylitol and erythritol are growing in new product launches in the United States, Ms. Mattucci said.
“Even though it’s a low base, products launched with erythritol have doubled whereas the percentage of products launched with monk fruit has nearly tripled within the last five years,” she said. “We are seeing different products talk about where these sugars came from … for example a couple of products are linking the origin of xylitol back to birch.”
Brands such as Halo Top and Quest Nutrition use packaging and other marketing tools to explain sweeteners that may be unfamiliar to consumers, she said. Halo Top, a better-for-you ice cream brand, uses organic stevia and erythritol in its products and describes these ingredients as “a plant native to Paraguay that’s been used to sweeten food and beverages for more than 200 years” and an “all-natural sweetener found in fruits like pears and grapes.”
A new range of protein bars from Quest Nutrition includes allulose, a rare sugar found in foods like figs, raisins, molasses and maple syrup. The sweetener contains a tenth of the calories as regular sugar, according to the company.
“(Quest) devotes an entire panel on the back of that product to discuss allulose,” Ms. Mattucci said. “But do consumers buy that it’s going to be natural even though these products contain all of these ingredients that may be mysterious to them? It really depends on who you’re talking to.”