Being just two weeks removed from Halloween, U.S. consumers likely aren’t as concerned about their current sugar intake, especially if they’re still eating sweets stashed in pillowcases and jack-o-lantern buckets.
But for the remainder of the year, sugar is at the top of mind for most U.S. consumers, according to a survey by Innova Market Insights. The research firm says three in five survey respondents would rather cut back on sugar than consume artificial sweeteners. What’s more, sugar-related claims continue to grow, and they’re increasingly taking more prominent on-pack positions.
Last year, 8 percent of new U.S. food and beverage launches tracked by Innova Market Insights featured a sugar reduction claim. Claims of “no added sugar” were most prevalent, accounting for 42 percent of all sugar-related claims. That’s followed by “sugar-free” (36 percent) and “low sugar” (27 percent). Although the “low sugar” claim had the smallest share of the launches, it’s also the fastest growing with a compound annual growth rate of 17 percent over the 2014 to 2018 period.
Food manufacturers can shrink sugar content in a variety of ways, including removing or reducing added sugar, replacing part of a product’s sugar content with non-nutritive sweeteners, and/or using innovative processing technologies. In a recent press release, Innova Market Insights cited techniques such as aeration to increase perceived sweetness, slow straining milk to remove sugar prior to yogurt making, and using enzymes to convert simple sugars to fibers in juices.
Though it’s not as favored by consumers, according to the survey results, manufacturers can turn to sweeteners to replace sugar. There’s plenty of interest in those derived from nature, such as stevia, monk fruit and thaumatin. Allulose, which also occurs naturally in small quantities in a variety of sweet foods such as figs, can also be manufactured synthetically.
Allulose is poised to have a shining moment since the FDA announced in April it does not have to be included in total and added sugar counts in U.S. nutritional labeling. Levels of patent activity indicate growing interest in the use of allulose, rising 42 percent in 2018 over 2017, while global new product development in food and beverages featuring allulose had an average annual growth of 45 percent from 2014 to 2018.
Innova Market Insights also pointed to turning up other flavor notes, such as bitter, sour or spicy, as a means to shift away from having sweet as the dominating flavor note.
Taking sugar content into consideration is important, especially as concerns over obesity and diabetes rise. That said, only 8 percent of recent launches featured a sugar-related claim. Either manufacturers have been slow to respond to this trend, or they understand consumers would rather eat a smaller portion of their favorite full-sugar sweets than seek out a reduced-sugar replacement.
But whether or not a treat is made with sugar, sweeteners or a combination of both, one thing remains clear — consumers want their sweets, and they’re going to eat them, too.