As the debate surrounding the potential dangers of sugar and how to tackle this issue continues to rage, new research from Mintel finds a significant 46% of Brits have taken at least one course of action to monitor or reduce their sugar intake in the last year.

Indeed, over the last year*, over a quarter (27%) of Brits said they have checked food labels for sugar content more often than they did 12 months previously. Meanwhile, 26% said they have limited the amount of sugar in their diet and 25% that they have cooked from scratch to control sugar intake more often over the same period.

In terms of why people are limiting their sugar intake, weight management stands out as the most common reason cited by people who limit their sugar intake (56%), followed by future health concerns (42%). Furthermore, a sizeable 43% of the population have noticed an increase in media coverage on “how sugar affects your health”, with these consumers (62%) notably more likely to have taken action to cut down on how much sugar they eat, highlighting a direct link between this and consumer behaviour.

46% of Brits have taken at least one course of action to monitor or reduce their sugar intake in the last year.

Emma Clifford, Senior Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel, said:

“Consumers’ attention to sugar has undoubtedly been heightened by the high-profile sugar debate during 2014 which has acted to demonise this ingredient to a certain extent. The fact that media coverage on sugar looks to have had a tangible impact on many consumers’ dietary habits is significant. It indicates the importance for companies or products to avoid being “named and shamed” in the media for their high sugar content and the potential damage this could do. It also suggests that being shown in a positive light in the media, for example for leading the way with reformulations using natural sweeteners, could help to boost positive perceptions and sales.”

Indeed, the majority of consumers (71%) believe that the food and drink industry should be doing more to reduce the amount of sugar in their products and three quarters of consumers (75%) think food and drink companies should make it easier to understand how much sugar is in their products. Some three fifths (58%) of all Brits feel cheated when a company isn’t clear about the high sugar content of its products, while over four in 10 (44%) people think food or drink products should show more clearly if they contain sweeteners.

“The dangers related to consuming too much sugar became the major food issue of 2014. Consumers are expecting the food industry to respond which shows that there are plenty of opportunities for companies to really make themselves stand out on this front. However, companies have also got to be wary of a potential consumer backlash against reformulations, if taste is seen to be sacrificed. Gradual changes to products to improve their health credentials look to be needed, or to offer ‘light’ versions in addition to standard versions.” Emma continues.

Sugar sales tumble

The fortunes of the retail sugar market have been turbulent in the last couple of years. While the market had already been enjoying strong growth in 2010 and 2011, 2012 was a spectacularly good year. Value sales rocketed by 18% year on year taking retail sales to £346 million. This coincided with – and was driven by – a surge in the home baking market. However, 2013 marked a U-turn in the sugar market, with value sales slipping by 2% year on year. This decline accelerated dramatically in 2014, with sales estimated to have dropped 14% to £298 million, accompanying a 9% decline in volume terms. The decline in the retail sugar market is expected to continue over the next three years. However, the rate of decline is anticipated to steadily abate, with the market stabilising between 2017 and 2018 at £258 million. Over the next five years, sales are forecast to fall 13%.

Currently, 55% of consumers deem products which are high in natural sugars to still be healthy and 51% think that products made with honey are better for you than those made with sugar. Some 37% consider unrefined sugar to be better for you than white sugar.

“Consumers’ perceptions of different types of sugar vary, with unrefined sugar, honey and sugar from fruit seen in a more positive light than refined sugar. This indicates that reformulations which simply move away from white sugar can help to boost the perceived health credentials of products without resorting to sweeteners.” Emma continues.

Sweeteners – the natural choice

With estimated sales of £57 million in 2014, the artificial sweeteners segment captures just 16% of the overall sugar and sweeteners market. The value of the market was broadly stable between 2009 and 2012. However, sales fell by 5% in 2013, with the same rate of decline anticipated for 2014. The current decline in the sweeteners market is expected to continue over the next five years.

British consumers remain wary of artificial sweeteners, with half (49%) of the population expressing concern about the use of these ingredients in food and non-alcoholic drinks. By contrast, naturally sourced sweeteners are met with far less resistance, only 10% of people think natural sweeteners are bad for them, with the rest of adults split between disagreeing (46%) and not being sure either way (44%). Indeed, over a third (35%) of consumers would like to see more food products which use naturally sourced sweeteners such as stevia.

“‘Naturalness appears to have become almost synonymous with healthiness and elicits trust from consumers, while anything artificial people tend to be wary of. To appeal to consumers who are conscious of their sugar intake, naturally sourced sweeteners provide an alternative to artificial sweeteners which people are far more accepting of.” concludes Emma.

*research carried out in September 2014

Press review copies of the Consumer Attitudes toward Sugar and Sweeteners, UK 2015 report and interviews with Senior Food Analyst, Emma Clifford, are available on request from the press office.

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