Is sugar to blame for America’s obesity epidemic? Of course, it’s not the sole cause of thickening waistlines, but sugar has become the scapegoat as recent headlines have claimed it a toxin. And, CPG marketers have taken note.
The International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) annual Food and Health Survey reported that in 2012, 20 percent of consumers selected “sugars” as the “source of calories most likely to cause weight gain.” This figure is almost double that of the 11 percent reported in 2011.
CPG manufacturers have the opportunity to help relieve a public health crisis, as overconsumption of sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Ahead of the curve, some have already responded to consumer demand with new sugar-free offerings and even reformulated additions to traditionally sweet product lines.
In the past, artificial sweeteners took sugar’s place in diet soda, candy and baked goods, but frequently came under attack for possible negative effects. Sucralose still has its place in the market, but more and more products are now substituting chemical-based sweeteners for all-natural options, such as monk fruit, oats, and the popular stevia.
Natural sugar alternatives provide more ingredient choices to CPG manufacturers but also complicate the selection process. When choosing an ingredient, keep these factors in mind:
- Claims: Front-of-package health claims can lead to sales increases. Will your target market see “all-natural” as a benefit?
- Cost: Natural stevia is much more expensive than artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. What price point is optimal for your product?
- Calorie reduction: It’s possible to mix natural or artificial calorie-free sweeteners with sugar for only half the calorie count. What calorie range fits your consumers’ needs?
- Aftertaste: Sugar alternatives sometimes have a lingering or bitter aftertaste that may need to be masked by other flavors.
For retailers, giving health-conscious consumers more options is key. The UnitedHealth Group predicts that by 2020, more than half of the American population will be diabetic or pre-diabetic. By adding more sugar-free products to their shelves, grocers can help this group achieve weight management goals. Many retail stores have expanded sugar alternative sections by carrying a greater variety of products lines and package types. Retailers should also consider dedicating increased shelf space to products with a sugar substitute as a main ingredient.
These efforts will not only encourage lifestyle changes, but also increase brand and shopper loyalty. What steps are you taking toward implementing sugar-free substitutes in your products or on your shelves?