Findings from this survey seem to confirm the continuing shift in consumer efforts to reduce sugar intake, as well as find a sugar alternative that provides an authentic sweet taste.
“The worldwide intake of sugar varies widely by age, setting and country. In some countries in Europe, sugar consumption in adults is as high as 17% of total energy intake and it can be even higher in children,” said Elaine Vaughan, chief science officer at Sensus, a market research company, which carried out the survey.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) strongly recommends reducing sugar intake to less than 10% of total energy intake, and better still, to less than 5% for improved health.”
But achieving sugar reduction is not a case of substituting sugar for an alternative such as xylitol, stevia, and coconut palm sugar. Taste differences that consumers are not used to can make or break a popular product – something manufacturers are hesitant to risk.
Reducing Europe’s collective sugar intake has included tentative steps in product reformulation, portion size reduction, potential government regulations, and changes in the food environment, in which manufacturers can contribute through the development of new sugar-reduced products.
The survey gathered the opinions of more than 2,500 adults in France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom to gain insight into their perceptions on the need for healthier foods.
More than 500 online interviews per country were carried out with men and women aged between 18-75 years old, and partly or completely responsible for grocery shopping.
The key finding revealed that more than 60% of those surveyed monitored their dietary sugar intake while 25% actively looked to purchase low sugar food products.
More than half (55%) of those surveyed claimed that the type of sweetener used in reduced sugar food products influences their buying choice with natural alternatives such as stevia and fructose preferred to artificial sweeteners.
In addition, almost 60% of the respondents said that they avoid aspartame in particular.
Functional food doubts
Those surveyed also expressed scepticism about functional foods. Almost 70% of respondents felt that in general, many products are presented with claims that lack scientific proof.
Almost 60% felt that most claims on functional products were misleading or exaggerated.
“European consumers are drawn to natural products. Almost 70% of survey respondents felt that the health promoting benefits of natural foods was preferable to added benefits of functional foods,” said Jolanda Vermulst, market intelligence manager at Sensus.
One factor that has fuelled Europeans’ scepticism about functional foods is inadequate labelling. Roughly 60% felt that the benefits of many functional foods were often not clearly labelled.
In addition, the more complex the ingredient’s name, the less appeal it had – another important factor for manufacturers to consider.
The survey also revealed a potential market for new sugar-reduced food products with 43% of those surveyed agreeing that there were not enough popular food products available with health benefits.