Sugar remains top concern for consumers

9 Mar 2020

Avoiding added sugar is the number one concern for consumers when using front-of-pack labelling to choose healthier foods and drinks, a new study suggests, while excess saturated fat and salt are less likely to influence purchase decisions.

The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics, found the UK’s traffic light labelling system helps steer consumers away from products that are high in sugar, but is much less influential in steering them toward healthier items. In addition, sugar was “significantly the most important macronutrient”, the study’s authors found, and eclipsed concerns about fat or salt.

Sugar remains top concern for consumers
Sugar is a greater concern than saturated fat or salt

For food and beverage companies, this is just the latest study to back the effectiveness of traffic light labelling in influencing consumers’ purchase decisions, and it underlines the importance of industry’s ongoing sugar reduction efforts. Cutting sugar has come into the spotlight for several reasons, including recently imposed sugar taxes in European countries such as the UK, Ireland, Portugal and France, as well as in many other countries worldwide. Our understanding of the negative effects of excess sugar consumption has grown significantly in recent years, although the authors of this latest study found only 13% of participants could correctly identify the maximum recommended intake of added sugar. Nevertheless, the World Health Organization’s 2015 advice to limit added sugar to less than 10% of total daily calories (and less than 5% to reduce disease risk still further) gained an enormous amount of attention. In a climate of increasing rates of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, both of which have been linked to excess sugar consumption, consumer concern has escalated. According to the UK’s Food Standards Agency, concern about sugar increased more than any other food-related worry: its research found 55% of UK consumers said they were concerned about sugar in 2018, up from 39% in 2010. However the answer for manufacturers is not always easy. The range of tools available to cut sugar is becoming increasingly broad, but consumer perception of naturalness has increased in importance too. According to Innova Market Insights, the most common positioning for reduced sugar products is ‘no additives/preservatives’, suggesting that manufacturers generally understand that when consumers seek healthier products, they also tend to want foods and drinks without artificial ingredients. Suppliers of naturally derived sweeteners, such as stevia and monk fruit, have been the most obvious beneficiaries of the drive to replace sugar with natural alternatives, but naturally derived bulking agents and other natural approaches to sugar reduction have also seen growing demand. Pyure Ingredients is among those offering soluble fibres to help replicate the mouthfeel and texture of sugar in reduced sugar products, and it offers non-GMO certified and organic certified options to tap into consumer demand for natural ingredients. Enzymes have also provided a novel solution. Given that they are processing aids rather than ingredients, they do not appear in the final product. Companies like DSM and Novozymes therefore have promoted lactase as a clean label approach to sugar reduction in dairy. Lactase works by breaking lactose into glucose and galactose, providing added sweetness without the need for added ingredients. In short, consumers seem to be paying more attention to sugar content than ever before, meaning the sugar reduction trend looks set to continue, particularly as front-of-pack nutrition labelling systems gain ground across a growing number of global markets – and those manufacturers that achieve lower sugar content naturally are at a distinct advantage.

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