Consumers Are Trending Away From Sugar

Many consumers continue to be concerned about the levels of sugar in foods and beverages they consume. According to the Sensibly Sweet white paper recently released by Kerry, a large percentage of consumers read the sugar content on labels and plan to reduce their sugar consumption.

With consumers taking active steps to manage sugar consumption and ongoing negative attitudes towards sugar, ramifications for Consumer packaged goods brands (CPGs) could be significant.

Concerns about weight and health

The Kerry white paper analyzes a survey of 760 Americans. It revealed that most of them want to eat less sugar due to concerns about weight and health. They are becoming more aware of issues such as childhood obesity and diabetes due to more public health efforts.

There is no disputing the fact that excessive sugar consumption gets linked to poor health outcomes. Consumers are turning to product claims on food packaging and the Nutrition Facts Panel to decide what to buy.

They are starting to eat more homemade meals, reduce their portion sizes and buy less packaged goods and sugary beverages. Sales of fruit drinks, snack bars, cookies, and yogurt are being negatively impacted by “added sugar” listed on the labels, according to a survey by a company called Ingredion.

Consumer trends count

The messaging of the food industry when it comes to sugar contained in products can confuse. After all, companies are attempting to make consumers buy their products. They can piggyback on consumer fears to gain a market advantage.

A label might tell consumers what they think they need to know, rather than what they actually should know. Thanks to preconceptions and widespread ignorance, consumers may buy products they believe are healthy just because certain claims are made.

When packaged foods claim to contain reduced sugar or no added sugar, they may have lower sugar levels than some other choices. This does not necessarily mean a significant reduction in calories or that they don’t still contain sugar levels that are deemed too high according to the World Health Organization. Just because a label claims less sugar does not necessarily mean the product is healthier.

Regulations could be improved so that claims made on products tally with customer perceptions. They could ensure that foods low in sugar meet overall health criteria.  

Consumers are tired of trying to play detective when it comes to deciphering labels. Sometimes they end of opting for more single-ingredient foods like fruit and vegetables out of frustration.  

What is important is that consumers educate themselves. When they’re more educated, they can present the industry with informed, reasonable preferences.  If they decide to forego certain foods and buy others because they’re concerned about health and weight issues, they can influence what manufacturers produce.

Winning back consumers

Many brands are swapping sugar for natural sweeteners or slashing the sugar levels in their products in an attempt to win back consumers. The Kerry white paper notes that new products featuring no/low/reduced sugar climbed 45% in 2017 compared to five years ago.

Manufacturers need to offer healthier options to consumers or risk them staying away from buying packaged foods or beverages. Coca-cola, for instance, has introduced a product that contains Stevia, a natural sweetener instead of sugar.

The soft drink industry has been focusing on the sugar issue for a while, against a backdrop of demand for products with reduced sugar and increasing calls for the government to legislate on the subject.

Confectionary giants, such as Nestle, are reformulating products to reduce sugar content and pledging to do even more for the future. The company is launching a new lower-sugar Milkybar in Ireland and Britain soon.

The new bars have 30% less sugar, thanks to a new sugar. The new sugar is made by spraying a water, milk powder and sugar mixture into warm air. It forms a porous sugar structure, using less sugar for the same amount of sweetness.

Most and least preferred sweeteners

The least preferred sweeteners were artificial sweeteners or ones that were less familiar, like monkfruit.  

Many younger consumers don’t want artificial sweeteners. Natural sweeteners, such as honey and stevia are preferred, even though they are more expensive. In the survey, honey was the top choice for 64% of respondents.  

Less sugar but the same taste

More than half (55%) of the survey’s respondents wanted less sugar, but they wanted the taste to stay the same. This provides a real challenge for manufacturers. They expect the same taste as before but with few calories and less guilt.

One way manufacturers could handle this would be to offer smaller portions. If they did so, consumers who weren’t prepared to sacrifice on taste could still enjoy the product but eat less of it.  

Another option for manufacturers would be to try and balance taste and functionality by using a combination of sweetener and sugar.

Zero sugar

Perhaps manufacturers would be better served by catering to shoppers willing to skip sweetness altogether. Some respondents (27%) were happy to settle for no sugar. These shoppers tended to be older millennials.  

A switch to savory

Some shoppers (17%) switched to savory products to reduce their sugar consumption. Manufacturers could think about adding savory, botanical or herbal flavors to products to reduce the amount of sweetness and offer a whole new taste experience for open-minded consumers ignoring the trend.

Cereal makers, in particular, continue to produce products full of sweet indulgence. Consumers are still supporting well-loved brands, despite their intention to avoid sugar. Kellogg’s Chocolate Frosted Flakes is a product that falls into this category.  

There are still some manufacturers who seem to be celebrating sugar instead of apologizing for it.  


What matters to consumers and what they associate with better health is a reduction in sugar consumption. Many companies have been reducing sugar levels in their products, for some years, knowing that this is what customers want. They are using alternative sweeteners, producing beverages with zero sugar, reducing portion sizes and much more to accommodate this consumer trend.

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