Products featuring no- or low-sugar claims are likely to gain steam during the coming years, as is media scrutiny for all types of sweeteners. These were among the key takeaways from The Food Institute’s recent webinar “Sizing Up the Sugar Reduction Trend: Key Insights and Industry Applications.”
Sponsored by Chr. Hansen, the webinar tracked changing consumer sentiment towards various sweeteners, the implications for manufacturers, retailers and foodservice providers, and how new labeling guidelines are affecting the food industry.
Food Institute members can catch up on the webinar here.
Sugar Reduction’s Place on the Health Matrix
Datassential senior analyst Samantha Horvath opened with an overview of the healthy “mega trends” that her organization had tracked in recent years.
The matrix ranged from inception (the earliest stage of a trend forming) to ubiquitous (featuring extremely common health claims).
“’No sugar added’ is a new and trending keyword or term for consumers today, as well as things like functional benefits,” she noted, with trendy restaurants and specialty grocers the most likely to offer products with this claim.
No- and Low-Sugar Growing in Foodservice
Sugar free product menu penetration grew 4% in the past four years, to 5.6% total penetration, Horvath shared. No added sugar (which was still on less than 1% of menus) showcased a 42% growth rate in the prior four years.
When compared to other healthy menu item claims, including keto (+63%), plant-based (+35%), and vegan (+13%) products all increasing their restaurant menu penetration in the past year, sugar-free and no-added-sugar claims had some runway. Using analytics and AI, Datassential projected both to rise 6% and 51%, respectively.
Demographic Changes Spur New Sweetener Adoption
Horvath noted 53% of consumers were avoiding or actively limiting their sugar consumption, and were turning to sweeteners like monk fruit, agave, honey, and stevia.
While honey and stevia found equal popularity among all consumers, Northeast consumers were the most interested in monk fruit. Hispanic consumers were the ones most interested in agave.
Chr. Hansen food cultures and enzymes marketing manager Rebecca Henrickson shared that 36% of consumers who checked food labels did so to identify low-sugar options. This outranked searches for products with high protein (33%) and low-fat options (24%), showcasing the demand for these items.
Natural Sugars Get a Pass
Henrickson focused her presentation on the dairy aisle, with opportunities for sugar reduction available specifically in the yogurt vertical.
She shared statistics that more than three in four consumers were okay with products featuring natural sugars. Although general trends for sugar consumption were down, if there was to be sugar/sweetness in a product, consumers were looking for natural sources. She also cited opportunities for food manufacturers and retailers to develop messaging highlighting the natural sources of sugar in a product, especially if it came from a natural product like milk or fruit.
Regarding natural sugars, she shared information on Chr. Hansen’s Sweety Y-3 culture, which naturally consumes galactose coming from lactose. During fermentation, the culture creates glucose, providing a natural source of sweetness for yogurt products.
Myriad Sources Reinforce Sugar Reduction
Henrickson said a variety of sources were reinforcing the sugar-reduction trend, including media companies, regulatory bodies, and even food retailers.
National media outlets were covering links between sugar and long-term disease, with specific targets towards milk and beverage companies. She noted the healthcare industry was quick to blame food and beverage consumption for a variety of medical conditions too.
Recent changes to dietary guidelines and nutritional-fact labels also drew attention to the presence/ amount of added sugars in products, which reinforced consumers preferences towards naturally-occurring sugars. Henrickson shared guidelines from Whole Foods Market, Sprouts Farmers Market, ALDI, Walmart, and Publix that set targets for their own private-label products.