Although grocery shelves are currently stocked  with chocolate bunnies in anticipation of Easter, consumers have grown less willing to fill their shopping carts with products high in sugar. Americans’ per capita consumption of sugar and other caloric sweeteners fell in 2017 for the third straight year, and the use of refined sugar has also declined.1 Siegner, Cathy. 70% of US adults are concerned about sugar consumption, study finds. Food Dive. December 13, 2018. Here’s a look at the emerging trend toward less sugar so grocery retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) suppliers can keep up with consumers’ evolving tastes.

Experts speak up about sugar

As recent studies have linked sugar to health concerns, medical experts have become more vocal about sugar’s harms. Most notably, last month the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Heart Association (AHA) called for taxes on sodas and energy drinks, which are leading sources of sugar in the diets of children and teens.2 Thompson, Dennis. Major Medical Groups Call for Soda Taxes. WebMD. March 25, 2019.

In addition, Harvard Medical School warns we consume way too much added sugar. Top sources of added sugar in the American diet include soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods. According to the National Cancer Institute, adult men consume an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day, which is equal to 384 calories. A 15-year study showed people who got 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with those who consumed 8% of their calories as added sugar.3 The sweet danger of sugar. Harvard Health Publishing. November 5, 2019.

The average child consumes 30 pounds of sugar
from sugary drinks per year – enough to fill a small bathtub
4 Thompson, Dennis. Major Medical Groups Call for Soda Taxes. WebMD. March 25, 2019.

Excess sugar in kids’ diets has contributed to soaring childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes, and experts also link sugar to tooth decay, heart disease, fatty liver disease and even death among children and teens.5 Gibson, Kate. Tax sugary drinks, urge pediatricians and Heart Association. CBS News. March 25. 2019. That’s why, by 2020, the new Nutrition Facts product label will be required on all food and beverage packaging, and it will require manufacturers to specify the amount of added sugar in each item.6 Siegner, Cathy. 70% of US adults are concerned about sugar consumption, study finds. Food Dive. December 13, 2018.

Informed consumers shun sugar

As consumers have gained transparent access to more detailed product data than ever before, they have become more informed about their food choices, including reasons to reduce their sugar consumption. A new Ipsos study found 70% of Americans are  concerned about the level of sugar in their diets. Categories of sugary foods that concern respondents the most are soda and carbonated beverages; juices; candy; desserts; canned fruit; condiments; and flavored coffee.7 Siegner, Cathy. 70% of US adults are concerned about sugar consumption, study finds. Food Dive. December 13, 2018.

In the meantime, the booming trend toward a health and wellness lifestyle and natural foods has sparked sales of low-sugar, high-fat ketogenic (keto) diet products. Last year the global keto market accounted for $9 billion in sales and is expected to exceed $12 billion in 2024, with an estimated compound annual growth rate of 5.3%.8 Ketogenic Diet Food Market – Segmented by Type (Supplements, Beverage and Meals), Distribution channel (Hyper/Super Market, Food & Drink Specialists Store, Convenience Stores and Others) and Geography – Growth, Trends and Forecasts (2019 – 2024). Mordor Intelligence. September 2018.

Last year, sales of stevia sweeteners grew by nearly 12% year-over-year. The sugar substitutes category now reflects the growth of products with a ‘natural’ positioning, such as stevia, monk fruit, xylitol and erythritol. By emphasizing natural ingredients rather than artificial flavors or chemicals, and eliminating the unpopular ‘diet’ positioning, sugar substitutes broaden their appeal beyond diabetic consumers as better-for-you options among consumers who prioritize health and wellness.9 Watson, Elaine. US retail sales of stevia sweeteners rose 119% in the past year as sales of artificial sweeteners continue to slide. Food Navigator USA. October 1, 2018.

Low-sugar innovations

In response to consumer demand for less sugar, CPG suppliers are reformulating their existing recipes and creating low-sugar product innovations.  Grocery retailers and suppliers also have adapted to the declining demand for sugar across diverse grocery categories:

  • Amazon recently announced plans to lower costs of Whole Foods products, including keto-friendly foods for sugar-conscious consumers.10 Amazon to Boost Grocery Presence With Price Cut Strategy. Zacks Equity Research April 02, 2019.
  • Kroger announced its product development team is working on developing healthier foods, including products with lower sugar content like seltzer waters and light agave syrup.11 Chayes-Wida, Erica. Kroger reveals the hottest healthy foods coming to grocery stores in 2019. Today. October 28, 2018.
  • Starbucks revamped its Frappuccino recipe to appeal to consumers seeking fewer calories and less sugar.12 Chayes-Wida, Erica. Starbucks is changing the formula of its classic Frappuccino — here’s why. Today. September 5, 2018.
  • PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have experimented with new and better-for-you options including Pure Leaf iced herbal tea and smartwater antioxidant, respectively, to convey a healthier image and enhance sales.

To reduce sugar, the grocery sector faces recipe formulation challenges without compromising product quality and consumer satisfaction. Reducing sugar in food and beverages can reduce a product’s body and mouthfeel – yet good taste is paramount. That’s why CPG suppliers and retailers with private label need to master how they reduce sugar to ensure the new product can taste as good as – or better – than the full sugar version.13 Harsch, Jonathan H. Customer demand revolutionizing the food supply chain. AgriPulse. March 4, 2019.

These findings show that the trend toward less sugar in CPG products is pervasive across grocery categories and unlikely to subside anytime soon.  As a result, grocery retailers and CPG suppliers may wish to consider how effectively their assortments reflect this consumer trend so they can adapt their products and stay competitive to ensure a sweet bottom line.

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