Consumer Reaction to Sweetened New Products

Originally Published: September 7, 2017
Last Updated: February 24, 2021
Consumer reaction to sweetened new products is important. Cookies is still the biggest segment containing HFCS. However, consumers are more likely to rate cookies with a "HFCS-free" claim higher because they are perceived to be healthier.

September 7, 2017 – Understanding consumer reaction to sweetened new products isn’t always easy. The way consumers perceive sweetness can be said to be a “good news, bad news” type of situation.

The bad news: Rising obesity has placed a spotlight on sweeteners, and 70% of consumers are concerned about how sugar impacts their health. The WHO has urged a tax increase on sugary drinks to reduce consumption, and bloggers, celebrities and media outlets have painted HFCS as “the devil.”

However, backed by Mintel’s market research, which includes gathering the opinions of 30,000 consumers each month and tracking consumer spending in 3,000 markets across 34 countries, Lynn Dornblaser, Director of Innovation & Insight at Mintel, has good news to report. In her Keynote Speech, “Understanding Consumer Reaction to Sweetened New Products,” she said that taste and value still drive the consumer mindset; a healthy percentage of people are willing to pay a premium for natural sweeteners like stevia; and, in short, consumers still care about indulgence.

“Even consumers who are looking for healthfulness and sugar restriction aren’t eating that way 100% of the time,” Dornblaser said. “The good news is there’s room for everything in the marketplace.”

New product introductions that make low- or reduced-sugar claims are on the rise since 2012, “and at a faster pace than new product introductions in general,” according to Mintel data. In the “snacks/cereal/energy bars” category, consumers consider low-sugar options as “unique” and “premium,” but are less likely to purchase them—because they aren’t considered “good value” or “tasty.”

“When you dig down, it’s not about the sugar,” Dornblaser said. Many of the products are from smaller companies, and consumer trust tends to be higher with bigger brands. Old Orchard’s Cran-Naturals Cranberry Apple Juice got a 57% purchase intent score compared to the 17% for Saluu’s “exciting” and “innovative” Aloe vera drink.

Consumers believe they focus more on nutrition and performance than they do on flavor. “However, the perceived flavor of the product is more important than the low-sugar claim,” Dornblaser said.

In terms of HFCS, half of consumers say they avoid it, according to Mintel, which may explain the recent drop in new product introductions with HFCS. Bakery products are still the biggest segment for HFCS; when Mintel dug deeper into cookies, they found consumers prefer cookies with this sweetener because of taste and value. However, cookies with an HFCS-free claim on the pack consistently score better than cookies without HFCS, simply because of perception.

“The point I took away from this data is HFCS doesn’t especially impact purchase intent, but if you’re going to take it out—tell people, because it makes a difference,” she asserted. This is likewise true for clean label claims, like “natural” and “organic.” Some 43% of internet users say they research sweeteners before using them, and 61% want more natural sugar substitutes, according to Lightspeed GMI and Mintel. However, 65% are confused about which substitutes are natural.

The confusion doesn’t stop there. Some 36% of U.S. consumers have cut out certain foods or ingredients they think they shouldn’t consume, compared to the 53% who worry about potentially harmful ingredients in food they buy.

“Consumers have been taught that certain things—artificial colors, artificial flavors, HFCS—are in foods and they shouldn’t be consuming them—even though companies are still putting them in,” Dornblaser said.

The majority agree that “the fewer ingredients, the healthier it is” and want more transparency— especially Millennials. A full 25% of Millennials and iGeneration are willing to pay a premium for natural sweeteners such as stevia. New product introductions with stevia have shown rapid growth in the U.S. over the past four
years—particularly in beverages and yogurt. It’s been especially effective in the juice drinks segment, Dornblaser noted, as consumer perception scored higher with stevia across the board.

Consumers aren’t buying products simply because of a low-sugar or no-HFCS claim. It needs to have something else going for it—notably good value, taste or a clean label positioning. “Tailor your approach, and sweetener, to your purpose,” Dornblaser added.

“Understanding Consumers Perceptions to Sweetened New Products,” Lynn Dornblaser, Director of Innovation & Insight, Mintel,

The summary above is from the “2016 Sweetener Systems Conference Magazine.”