According to Mintel analyst Chris Brockman, consumers are being increasingly exposed to a negative message around sugar and this has filtered down to their shopping habits as they move away from some categories such as carbonated soft drinks, breakfast cereals and juices.
“When we ask consumers are they aware and are they interested in reducing their sugar intake, a lot of them are saying they are.”
But even if they are turning away from sugar, artificial sweeteners aren’t really the solution, said Brockman, as ingredients like aspartame are also perceived negatively by many consumers.
‘Natural’ sweetening ingredients, such as maple syrup, honey or agave on the hand, are perceived more positively.
So how is the sugar industry reacting to this?
For Alexandre Luneau, vice president of strategic marketing at Tereos, this backlash means many food companies have already reformulated to reduce the sugar content of their products. It also means sugar companies, such as Tereos, are diversifying into other ingredients.
“The way we’ve been approaching this is actually by having ourselves the full palate of sweetening ingredients. So yes, we have traditional sugars from cane or beet but we also have grain sugars from wheat or corn. We also have some low-calorie sugars and some zero-calorie sugars like stevia.”
Luneau added that for some categories, such as indulgence products marketed as treats, manufacturers still tended to prefer full sugars.
“Zero calorie is frankly not that sexy any more. It’s more of a low-calorie to mid-calorie, and we do envision indeed that consumers depending on where they are will continue to buy full sugars, low-calorie and mid-calorie types of products – at least in Western Europe. If you go in the developing world, it’s a whole different story,” he added.
'It's a huge opportunity'
Meanwhile for Shasha Yu, marketing manager for stevia producer Sweet Green Fields, the sugar backlash is a clear opportunity for stevia.
“When consumers are becoming more health conscious it’s a huge opportunity for stevia and other naturally-derived sweeteners. If they are turning away from sugar and other artificial sweeteners, we are happy to take over the market,” she said.