Health

Consumers turning away from sugar

04:16 SGT August 18, 2017
Consumers
Conscious eaters are looking for sugar-free alternatives in everything from drinks to confectionery

Food dictates health and well-being. Consumers are increasingly watching their eating habits, and cutting on sugar is said to be the first step to a healthy lifestyle. This could be why tons of artificial sweeteners have flooded the market for years now. Consumers globally, however, are rethinking the choice of reduced-sugar or artificial sweeteners. Products that use these are not necessarily too appealing either as they are typically associated with artificial ingredients, which many consumers do not like or trust.

So-called healthy breakfast items such as fruit-infused yoghurt, granola, muffins and even cereal have been serving up sugar to consumers that is equivalent to eating dessert. In a joint survey by the Morning Consult, a media and polling firm, and The New York Times, a huge disparity of opinions was discovered among hundreds of nutritionists — members
of the American Society for Nutrition — and a representative sample of the American electorate. Of the 52 common foods that the experts and public were asked to rate as healthy or unhealthy, none had a wider gap than granola bars. More than 70% of ordinary Americans surveyed described it as healthy, but less than a third of nutritional experts did. A similar gap also existed for granola, which less than half of the nutritionists in the survey described as healthy.

There are other novel sugars, such as Allulose by Matsutani Chemical Industry and Isomaltulose by Beneo that have improved physiological effects while providing natural sweetness to food products, that are being increasingly used.

As such, many consumers are turning away from certain sugary foods altogether in favour of products that are naturally low in sugar. According to Mintel’s Sugar and Sweeteners US 2016 report, nearly one-quarter of Americans say they are buying less foods and drinks containing sugar than they did last year, indicating a real threat to producers of products in sweet categories.

Averseness to sugar is not new to Asia either. The largest soft drinks market globally, Asia-Pacific is looking for sugar-free beverage options to quench its thirst. The soft drinks market in Asia-Pacific was worth US$267 billion in 2015, according to figures from GlobalData, and it is expected to grow a further 7.2% per year to reach almost $374 billion by 2020.

But soft drink brands will need to find sugar-free alternatives to capitalise on in this lucrative market. Consumers are seeking convenient ways to improve their personal wellbeing and live a more holistic lifestyle, without cutting soft drinks completely out of their diet. About 92% of consumers in the Asia-Pacific region find general health and well-being claims appealing in food and drink products, according to a GlobalData consumer survey.

“Governments across Asia are implementing regulatory measures to educational efforts such as nutrition labelling and public campaigns,” said Chee Hong Tat, Singapore’s Minister of State for Health, at Food Vision Asia 2017 in April. “As we become more health-conscious, taste and convenience alone will no longer be enough to win over consumers. Health will become an important factor for many consumers when they decide what food to purchase and what they would like to consume. I encourage more companies to focus on creating foods that are not only tasty and convenient, but also good for health. My belief is that health and taste are not mutually exclusive. Food can be both tasty and healthy,” he added.

About 92% of consumers in the Asia- Pacific region find general health and well-being claims appealing in food and drink products, according to a GlobalData consumer survey.

Big names such as Coca-Cola are meeting the needs of the Asian market and with its latest Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, it has also adopted the Singapore government’s Healthier Choice labelling to offer sugar-free alternatives to consumers. “This indicates a commitment by the company to providing consumers with more choices to control their sugar intake and choose healthier beverage options,” said Chee.

Although consumers are trying to reduce the amount of sugar they consume, they do not like their favourite treats being reformulated either. Only one in five UK consumers would more likely buy reduced sugar versions of cakes, ice-creams and chocolates, compared to the standard versions, said a Mintel report. While consumers are waking up to the ill effects of excess sugar in their diets, they don’t wish to compromise on taste. Thus, they are still at the mercy of food manufacturers to fully adopt the change. And food manufacturers have to do it effectively so as not to replace the original taste.

Nestlé recently pledged to cut down sugar in all its products by 10% in the UK and Ireland by 2018. The corporation vowed to cut an equivalent of 7,500 tonnes of sugar from confectionery without resorting to artificial sweeteners. The announcement followed public concern over the quantity of sugar in the country’s diet and its contribution to rising obesity levels. In December last year, it also announced that it had found a way of reducing the sugar content of its chocolate ranges by 40% using hollow sugar particles.

There are other novel sugars, such as Allulose by Matsutani Chemical Industry and Isomaltulose by Beneo that have improved physiological effects while providing natural sweetness to food products, which are being increasingly used. These are not artificial sweeteners but they give food a natural sweetness along with health benefits. This offers great promise in creating commercially viable healthier products and reducing the negative effects of sugar-sweetened food and beverages.

Brand-owners are under significant pressure from governments and changing consumer patterns to reduce the amount of sugar in their products. These pressures are driving companies to make confectionery products, beverages, processed snacks and packaged food healthier while appeasing the consumers’ taste buds.