by Christine O'Keefe, Ph.D.
February 27, 2017
Humans have evolved to crave sweetness -- for our early ancestors, sweetness indicated a good source of life sustaining calories. However, in modern times this inborn craving for sweets has become unhealthy, not adaptive.
In 2015, over 29 million Americans had diabetes, while nearly 98 million Americans are overweight or obese. For these individuals, sugar can be harmful or even life threatening.
A recent study in the journal BMJ Open found that 60% of the calories an average American eats every day are from “ultraprocessed” foods. The study also found that this type of diet is a major source of added sugar for average American diets.
Caloric sweeteners, including sugar and high fructose corn syrup, are added to over 70% of all packaged foods sold in supermarkets. Extra sugar can be found in surprising places, like fruit drinks, granola, and spaghetti sauce.
In the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted that Americans eat too much added sugar, and in 2016 it finalized the new Nutrition Facts label, including specific information on “added sugars.” Additionally, the Union of Concerned Scientists petitioned the FDA in January 2017 to limit the amount of sugar in foods making “healthy” claims on the label. These changes are aimed at making American consumers more aware of added sugars in the foods or in beverages they consume.
In response to growing concerns from the public over added sugars in foods, food and beverage producers have instituted sweeping programs to reduce sugar in their products.
For example, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Co., and the Dr. Pepper Snapple group each announced in 2015 a commitment to reduce the number of sugar calories Americans drink by 20 percent. A part of the companies’ plan included promoting diet soft drinks using alternative sweeteners.
However, once consumers make the choice to purchase and consume products with alternative sweeteners, they are faced with a wide variety of sweeteners, each with advantages and disadvantages. These choices are often swayed by trends in foods and beverages.
One major trend is the move towards healthier foods and beverages, including “all natural” or “clean label” products. These terms are marketing terms and aren’t officially defined by the FDA, but consumers often have a rough idea of what they mean.
One definition for “clean label” is products with short ingredient lists, with easy to understand ingredient names. These labels can also identify products that are made without certain ingredients -- gluten free and lactose free being two major examples. These trends will favor natural alternative sweeteners and polyols, to a lesser extent, over high intensity sweeteners in the future.
Despite its ambiguous nature, “all natural” also has an impact on sweetener choice, with nearly two-thirds of consumers finding sugars derived from natural sources are better health-wise, and a similar number preferring natural sweeteners to artificial products.
Another trend among the American public is the continued interest in organic and non GMO foods. Natural alternative sweetener producers have responded, launching stevia and monk fruit products that are organic and/or non GMO. The ability to manufacture these types of products will further favor the use of natural alternative sweeteners in foods and beverages.
For more information on alternative sweeteners, check out the market research report Alternative Sweeteners Market by the Freedonia Group. This comprehensive study offers historical demand data and forecasts for alternative sweeteners, as well as key market factors, industry structure, company market share, and more.
Christine O’Keefe, Ph.D., is an Industry Analyst at the Freedonia Group, where she focuses on chemical topics and food ingredients.
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