Survey: Consumers Want Healthier, Natural Sweeteners

Dive Brief:

Consumers pay close attention to sugar levels in products, preferring sweeteners from more natural sources, according to a study commissioned by ingredients company Beneo and conducted by Ipsos. Of those surveyed, 57% said they try to cut their sugar intake. 

The reasons that respondents want to cut their sugar intake varied. Most desired a healthy diet—58%—and better weight management—56%. The other major factors were wanting to prevent tooth decay—37%—and diabetes—28%. However, respondents don't want to give up sugar. More than half said they enjoy the taste, while almost a quarter said it gives them essential energy, and a fifth say it helps their mood.

Respondents saw honey as the most appealing sweetener because it is all natural. Meanwhile, almost two out of three agreed that naturally derived sugars from fruits, vegetables and plants are healthier. About the same amount said they prefer natural sugars to low-calorie sweeteners.

Dive Insight:

As consumers follow some of the top trends in foods, it is inevitable that more natural alternatives to sugar would come into the forefront. Consumers are looking for better-for-you and more natural foods, and products with high sugar content usually don't fit into either of those boxes.

It is not surprising that honey, a natural sweetener that needs only minimal processing, tops consumers' list of preferred sugar alternatives. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, per capita annual consumption of the bee-made sticky sweetener has almost doubled in the last 26 years, going from an average of 0.5 pounds in 1990 to 0.9 pounds this year. The National Honey Board said that it made a concerted effort to reach out to consumers interested in clean labels to let them know that honey is a pure natural sweetener. And honey can be found in hundreds of products ranging from bread to ice cream to barbecue sauce.

Honey isn't the only popular natural sugar alternative. Stevia, monk fruit, agave, brazzein, xylitol and brown rice syrup are also commonly used. No one of these has yet dominated the category, as each alternative has its positive and negative points. 

But aside from what consumers want, manufacturers will likely want to limit the amount of sugar that's in their products as well. With the new Nutrition Facts panel, every product will have to explicitly list the amount of added sugars. Products from soda to pudding to granola may want to make that amount as small as possible, which could make it worthwhile to reformulate with more natural sweeteners. As an added bonus, some of those sweeteners, like stevia, are more potent than sugar, so less is needed to get a similar taste.