Consumers & Sweeteners: A Complicated Love Affair

Originally Published: October 29, 2020
Last Updated: February 4, 2021
Several friends sitting at a table next to one another sharing a plate of baked goods containing muffins, cookies and other sweet treats.

A COMPREHENSIVE MARKET and consumer trends assessment entitled “Retooling for the New Sweetener Influencers” was provided by Elizabeth Sloan, Ph.D., of Sloan Trends, Inc. for the 2020 Sweetener Systems Conference. Sloan’s presentation focused particularly on consumers & sweeteners, which turns out to be a “complicated love affair.”

Sloan began her talk with the comment, “There are great opportunities in the $83 billion global sweetener industry, despite the sugar bashing.” The emerging market that has arisen with COVID- 19 is demonstrating an accelerated interest in both indulgent and healthy items. At end of March 2020, sales of ice cream, cookies and low-calorie soft drinks had increased from 2019 by 29, 10 and 5%, respectively, she noted.(1)

In 2019 and 2017, half of consumers in a Technomic survey indicated that sweet flavors were very appealing.(2) “This includes the younger population—with 70% of Gen Y identifying ‘sweet’ as the third most craveable flavor,” Sloan said.

Bakery had a banner year in 2019, with cakes a leading best seller, up 14% in sales.(3) “Yet, 33% of bakery shoppers check labels looking for ‘nothing artificial;’ 25% for the type of sweetener; and 27% check for a sugar claim.(4)

Data from NPD’s 2018 “National Eating Trends” report showed that, for the first time in 10 years, sweet snacking is on the rise.(5) Consumers are eating more sweet snacks as the day progresses, with after dinner occasions gaining in popularity. “Interestingly, 40% of snack sales are represented by household with kids,” stated Sloan. “This is an opportunity, as by 2026, 80% of Millennials will have kids.” In restaurants, sweet bites are the fifth fastest growing menu item for 2020, and 59% of consumers would order more desserts if made with healthier natural sweeteners. “This report shows that using ‘real sugar’ is more likely to encourage dessert purchases for 56% of consumers; low sugar/sugar-free options for 47%; and alternative sweeteners for 38% of consumers,” said Sloan.(2)

According to Euromonitor’s “2019 Health & Nutrition Survey,” globally, 40% of consumers are limiting sugar intake, with 19, 10 and 9% following a low-sugar, low-calorie or a low/no carb diet, primarily to lose weight and secondly to feel better.(6)

Consumers that seek out “no artificial flavors or sweeteners” are similar across regions: Europe 33%, Asia-Pacific 31%, Latin America 31% and MEA 30%.(7) “Interestingly,” stated Sloan, “taste and price top sweetener purchase drivers—not naturalness.”(8)

In the U.S., 33% of consumers, mostly in the age brackets of 30-39 years and older, use low/no calorie sweeteners (LNCS). Key perceived benefits of using LNCS sweeteners include simply consuming less sugar, losing weight, consuming fewer total calories and to manage diabetes/control blood sugar.(9) Core organic and clean-eating consumers are twice as likely to avoid sugar, in com- parison to 25% of general U.S. consumers. “But, only 21% of adults think natural sweeteners are healthier,” Sloan averred.(10) Natural, whole-food sweeteners, such as honey, fruit juices, maple syrup, agave, monk fruit and stevia were viewed as the healthiest.(11)

Areas favored by 42% of U.S. consumers for use of artificial sweeteners include meal replacements, nutrition products, weight and protein drinks, which represented a market of $5.3B in 2019.(12) Sloan presented a number of key points in her summary. “It’s not just about health for sweetener choice, as flavor/taste, novelty and price are strong influencers.” She noted that “actions taken to limit sugar are personal and diverse. ‘Real’ is an important, untapped perspective.”

Natural, organic and clean are highly desired options. Consumers are also seeking novel food-based sweeteners/extracts/superfoods. Sweeteners that deliver health benefits, such as prebiotics and antioxidants, are the “brass ring” going forward. Those that improve long-term health will succeed, with examples being low-glycemic/blood-sugar management and satiety via prebiotics/fiber. In times of stress, such as the reality of today, a sweet and indulgent treat is a welcome comfort.

“Retooling for the New Sweetener Influencers,” Elizabeth Sloan,Ph.D., Sloan Trends

(1) IRI, Y/E March 29, 2020 (2) Technomic, Inc., Flavor Consumer Trend Report, 2019, 2017 (3) Progressive Grocer, 2019 Retail Bakery Review; 7/2019 (4) ABA, Power of Bakery, 2019 (5) NPD, 2018 National Eating Trends (6) Euromonitor, Health & Nutrition Survey, 2019 (7) Mintel, Sugar Reduction, 2020 (8) Mintel, Sugar Reduction: Balancing Health, Naturalness and Taste, 3/2020 (9) IFIC, Food and Health Survey, Gen X, 2019 (10) Packaged Facts, The Organic and Clean Label Food Shopper, 2019 (11) Hartman Group, Health and Wellness, 2019 (12) Mintel, Nutrition Drinks, US, Feb 2020

This presentation was given at the 2020 Sweetener Systems Conference. To download presentations from this event, go to:

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