Sugar replaces price as consumers’ top food worry

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Sugar content of food is a growing concern for consumers in the UK ©iStock/karandaev
Sugar content of food is a growing concern for consumers in the UK ©iStock/karandaev
The amount of sugar contained in food has risen up the consumer agenda and replaced price as consumers’ biggest food concern, research from the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) reveals.

In its biannual public attitudes tracker, the FSA found that concern about sugar has risen “more than any other concern​”. In its first survey,  conducted in 2010, the FSA found 39% of consumers expressed concern over sugar consumption. The latest survey data shows that this is now a topic more than half of respondents, 55%, are worried about.

At the same time, anxiety over food prices has decreased. Between 2010 and 2015, the FSA reported that food price was the “top issue of concern​”, consistently rating somewhere between 50-60%. However, worries over food costs have abated somewhat, with 43% of UK consumers stating that this one of their food worries this year.

The biannual report also noted a rise in the number of people who cite food waste as an area of concern, with a 9% increase to 51% of respondents this year. Animal welfare was also flagged as an area of interest by UK consumers, with 42% of people stating that this is something they are concerned about.

Food safety in focus

The UK food safety watchdog revealed that food safety is also on the UK consumer radar. According to its results, 45% of respondents reported concern about food safety in restaurants, bars, cafes and takeaways while 43% said they were concerned about food safety in shops and supermarkets.

The top food safety issues of concern were food hygiene when eating out (33%), chemicals from the environment such as lead in food (30%), food additives (29%) and food poisoning (28%).

Salmonella and E-coli were by far the most commonly known types of food poisoning, with total awareness of 91% and 85% respectively.

However, the FSA continued, UK consumers reported high trust levels in labelling regulation and most appear not to be overly concerned about food fraud. The majority, 75%, reported that they trust that food is what it says it is and is accurately labelled and 73% trusted the authenticity of ingredients, origin and quality of food.

Spotlight on sugar

While consumers might report growing concern over sugar in food and beverage products, evidence remains mixed regarding UK consumer attitudes to the topic.

In a bid to combat diet-related non-communicable diseases and cut sugar consumption at a population level, the UK government introduced a tax on high sugar beverages this April.

While the move spurred a spate of reformulation from food manufacturers, a recent study from Nielsen​ found it had little impact on consumer behaviour. The data analytics company reported 62% of consumers said they have not changed their buying patterns since the introduction of the Soft Drinks Levy.

Before the tax was introduced, 11% of shoppers said they planned to stop drinking sugary drinks: this figure now stands at 1%. The number of people who said they intended to keep buying sugary drinks has actually grown post tax: from 31% in February to 44% in June.

However, 69% of shoppers now believe that the tax should be extended to biscuits and confectionery.

Aylin Ceylan, consumer and shopper partner, Nielsen, said that although the effects of the sugar tax on consumers don’t appear to be drastic, sugar intake is still a major concern and the sugar tax has helped raise awareness.

“While we haven’t seen any significant changes in consumer habits, we have seen manufacturers adapt accordingly,”​ she said. “The average sugar content has been steadily decreasing in key categories such as carbonated drinks and breakfast cereals.”

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