71 percent of US consumers check for sugar content, claims Kerry research
22 Aug 2018 --- Kerry has released the findings of new clean label research on sweetening agents which reveals that 71 percent of US consumers now read the label for sugar content, while almost half of people surveyed really want to slash their sugar consumption. American consumers’ awareness and preference toward natural and artificial sweetening agents are explored in Kerry’s latest 20-page White Paper entitled “Sensibly Sweet, Formulating for Clean Label Taste.”
This study aligns with Kerry’s strategic emphasis on clean label opportunities in taste and nutrition. Its research focused on how consumer perceptions can inform the manufacturing, retail, and foodservice industries in an effort to understand the future of food & beverages.
Kerry continues to formulate food & beverages that tap into what consumers are looking for while keeping ahead of the curve on what is coming next. The company claims that its drive is to “deeply understand consumer behavior around sweetness,” in particular, to ask questions to better understand expectations of taste, quantity and source of sweetness, and how these vary across indulgent and non-indulgent categories.
The company surveyed more than 760 US consumers, measuring their perceptions of 17 sweetening agents to understand attitudes, preference and ideal sweetening agents across six product categories – sports drinks, carbonated soft drinks, ice cream, flavored alcoholic malt beverages, granola bars, and cookies & cakes.
In its research, Kerry found that 71 percent of consumers read the sugar content on ingredient labels while 46 percent of consumers strongly want to reduce their consumption of sugar.
“Consumers believe food & beverages across categories contain too much sugar, especially carbonated soft drinks, cakes, pastries, ice cream, and juice,” the report concludes.
“Consumers seek products made with natural and familiar sweetening agents such as honey and sugar. With increasing awareness, consumers also focus on the amount of sugar per serving, particularly in carbonated soft drinks, cakes and cookies, ice cream, and all other beverages.”
“The ideal product formulation varies across consumer segments and categories: some want products formulated with less sugar but with the same taste, while others seek products with both less sugar and less sweetness. These choices are influenced by category, need state, portion size, and by other nutritional facts such as calories and protein levels.”
The report also says that a majority of consumers are proactively managing their sugar consumption with behavioral changes – cooking at home, managing portion sizes, and even buying fewer packaged goods.
Growing concerns regarding adult and childhood obesity and diabetes have led consumers to increase their scrutiny of sweetness in the food & beverages they consume, says Kerry.
“The perceived drawbacks of sugar and other natural and artificial sweetening agents have resulted in changing consumption behavior,” according to the White Paper.
Kerry says that not only are consumers seeking clean label products, its research shows that they are also reviewing the “type of sweetening agents,” followed by the “grams of added sugar per serving.”
The type of sweetening agents was significantly more important to men (57 percent vs 45 percent for women) and to older consumers, such as Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. “Calories per serving” was the third most important factor listed.
Consumer perceptions around ideal daily sugar intake
Consumer knowledge around sweetening agents is mixed, says Kerry, with nearly half (48 percent), of consumers believing the ideal daily sugar intake is six to nine teaspoons, which is in line with the guidance that several health and nutrition institutes recommend.
The report says that Baby Boomers and Gen Xers were more likely to expect lower sugar levels as ideal compared to Millennials. However, there is a disconnect between their awareness and consumption behavior. Despite the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association recommendations to limit daily added sugar at 25g to 36g, the average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons (82g) every day, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
“This indicates that Americans are aware of the ideal daily sugar intake, however, are unaware of how to interpret the grams of sugar on a nutrition panel,” adds the report.
What is influencing consumers’ decisions?
In addition to exploring consumer preferences, Kerry also investigated consumer purchase decision drivers when presented with a packaged product.
Honey, sugar, maple syrup, coconut sugar and agave came out on top in terms of driving a preference for a product. Products with 50 calories or less were most preferred, while 8-10g of protein was the only level of protein that drove preference.
“Across 850 different product combinations of sweetening agents, protein content, and calorie count, the most preferred product across all categories was one with honey, 8-10g of protein and the lowest amount of calories,” says the report.
“We found that honey was by far the strongest driver of preference, with a set of other natural sources (sugar, maple syrup etc.) also positively impacting preference. Interestingly, a number of other natural sweetening agents (e.g., molasses, palm sugar, stevia, monk fruit) drove negative perceptions of a product, likely due to lack of awareness.”
In terms of calories count, Kerry found that any level under 50 calories was a positive factor driving preference, with zero calories as the second most important factor driving liking.
“For formulators, this means that products with zero calories are strongly preferred and would overcome – as a driver of preference – most sources of sweetness,” adds the report.
Unique insight into preferences
The results of the study provide unique insight into consumer preferences of types of sweetening agents, the preferred intensity of sweetness and impact on the taste and nutrition of the product.
“Consumer focus on low and reduced sugar products has never been higher. Our research helps us better understand consumer awareness of various sweetening agents and their preferences across various product categories,” says Soumya Nair, Director of Marketing Insights.
“Understanding the underlying triggers to sugar reduction and staying ahead of these evolving consumer behaviors helps us better innovate and develop focused and consumer-driven solutions for our customers.”
The study included American consumers across gender, age groups, and ethnicities, uncovering specific categories that were perceived to have high amounts of sugar, the amount of sugar consumers expect across product categories, and taste preferences for reduced sugar products.
The research focuses on how consumer perceptions can inform the manufacturing, retail, and foodservice industries in an effort to understand the future of food & beverages.
Flavor solutions to meet the sugar reduction challenge
Kerry’s latest research comes at a time when consumers are demanding a return to real food & beverage products and seeking out healthier alternatives. Kerry says it’s responding with better, more authentic and nutritious taste experiences.
Recently at the IFT Food Expo in Chicago, Kerry highlighted its TasteSense flavor modulation technology, the company’s answer to the sugar reduction challenge; a molecule that was developed by their research team which has been brought to the US market.
As a clean label ingredient, it can be labeled as “natural flavor.” Kerry has been working on some sensory validation of carbonated soft drinks, using its TasteSense technology as well as tea and apple juice. Additionally, there is also some sensory research with savory applications such as BBQ sauce and ketchup.
Speaking about consumer research and attitudes towards sugar, Renata Ibarra from Kerry noted big market opportunities for reformulating within the reduced-sugar profile.
You can watch the full interview with Kerry at IFT here.
By Gaynor Selby
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