It’s no secret that consumers everywhere love sweetened food and drinks.
The consumer relationship with sugar is evolving. Kerry’s Sensibly Sweet global research on human behaviour, which focuses on sweetness and sweeteners, found that 64% of consumers believe the addition of sweeteners is an important ingredient in making food and drinks taste great and that sugar is also an energy source. However, there are concerns around the nutritional value and impact of sugar on health and, as such, the consumer’s relationship with sugar is evolving.
In Southeast Asia, as many as 86% of respondents are concerned that eating too much sugar may lead to diabetes; more than 70% want to cut their sugar intake to enjoy a healthier life, and 62% are already consuming less sugar to avoid potential health issues. Globally, 82% of consumers agree that reduced sugar products are healthier.
When it comes to sweetness, people everywhere agree on one thing – it is an emotional relationship. Sugar is what they reach for when they want comfort food and to indulge in snacks like candy, ice cream and chocolate, or soft drinks and juice.
Kerry’s research polled consumers across 24 countries and those in. China, India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the US and Germany, said sweetened food and beverages make them feel happy, while consumers in Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Africa, France and the UK associate them with feeling energised.
Consumers can be categorised into three main types: Zero Sugar Advocates, Taste Chasers, and Sugar Reducer Seekers.
The first group (Zero Sugar Advocates) is particular about the type of sweetener as they have removed sugar from their diet for health reasons, such as diabetes. In Asia-Pacific, Middle East & Africa (APMEA), Taste Chasers constitute the largest consumer segment; while these consumers are open to reduced or no sugar, they want authentic taste. For Sugar Reducer Seekers, cutting back on sugar is motivated by a healthier lifestyle – Australians, Malaysians, and Vietnamese are top consumers that fall into this group.
Today, there is a rising number of product launches with sugar reformulation (reduced, low or no sugar). Between 2018 to 2022, products with these claims saw a 38% CAGR within APMEA.
Accelerating the sugar reformulation movement are the sugar taxes implemented by governments across the globe to control and reduce unhealthy sugar levels in products. Here, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Nigeria and South Africa are among the countries taking the lead.
Natural versus artificial sweeteners
Post-pandemic, consumers have become more health conscious and more receptive to sweeteners and sugar alternatives. However, Kerry’s research found that 77% of global consumers consider the type of sweetener used as the most important detail and 75% prefer using a natural sweetener.
Almost all APMEA consumers (98%) polled had negative taste and health perceptions of artificial sweeteners, with the majority perceiving them to be bad for health (58%) and having harmful side effects (47%).
Currently, the APMEA market is dominated by artificial sweeteners, with 46% of sugar-reformulated product launches using synthetic sweeteners like sucralose or acesulfame K. This presents a great opportunity for industry players to address the rising demand for natural sweeteners.
One such natural sweetener is Stevia. Derived from a plant extract, Stevia is currently the third most preferred sweetener in the world (after honey and sugar), followed by coconut sugar and fructose.
Finding the sweet spot
Kerry’s study also revealed that consumers are not looking for sugar reduction in all products. The most prominent demand for sugar reduction is in drinks, specifically carbonated soft drinks and products in indulgent categories such as ice cream and iced coffee. This is a window of opportunity for manufacturers.
Unfortunately, replacing or reducing sugar isn’t as easy as merely swapping it with a substitute. Because ingredients react with one another, this will impact the authentic taste profile and mouthfeel of a beverage, making it less appealing.
To address consumer demand for a natural sweetener that delivers on taste and nutrition, Kerry has introduced the next generation of sweetness solutions – Kerry’s Tastesense™ Advanced, which offers up to 8°Brix management sugar reduction.
Tastesense™ Advanced is an all-in-one solution optimised to provide holistic sweetness that takes into consideration mouthfeel, sweetness modulation, masking, as well as acting as a sweetener.
It is a plant-derived sweetener with a full-bodied mouthfeel that achieves the syrupy profile consumers love about sugar. It has low- to no off-notes or aftertaste, and fully mimics the authentic taste profile of sugar, making it a convenient nutritionally optimised product for beverages.
While it’s universal that consumers want a good mix of taste and nutrition when it comes to sugar reduction, the differences between regional markets mean that a single solution is hard to achieve. Brands must therefore find the right balance of solutions to meet diverse needs.