Macphie insights | No more sugar coating

Following the introduction of a new sugar tax and advice to cut back from several health organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), consumer attitudes towards sugar and sweeteners are changing. For a long time, consumers have worried over carb-content and fat levels but sugar has now become the star of the show.

The UK government last year revealed its plans for food manufacturers to reduce sugar content in the recent ‘childhood obesity: a plan for action.’ By 2020, food and drink manufacturers must reduce sugar content by 20% with a 5% reduction in year one. This aims to tackle the severe health issues closely linked to childhood obesity given that one third of children aged 2 – 15 are overweight or obese. As well as a clear reduction in sugar content, a soft drinks industry levy has been introduced designed to encourage producers to reduce the amount of sugar in their products and to move consumers towards healthier alternatives.

With this increasing pressure from the government on sugar content resulting in increased attention in the media, consumers are becoming more aware of the risks that high sugar consumption can pose including diabetes and heart disease. Research shows that 62% of UK adults are concerned about sugar in food and non-alcoholic drink products. These concerns aren’t just restricted to sweet items with 47% of consumers stating that the amount of sugar in some savoury food products, for example in pasta sauces, puts them off buying. This highlights that changing attitudes will have a direct impact on buying behavior on items containing sugar and it’s likely that consumers will pay closer attention to product labelling. Legislation is not the sole driver for reducing sugar content.

It’s widely realised that sugar plays a big part in the taste and quality of several products so when removing sugar content, consideration should be taken over suitable replacements. Consumers are less than impressed with sugar being replaced with artificial alternatives with research showing that 72% are wary of artificial sweeteners. A proportion of consumers (40%) also state that they’d be put off by a brand that replaces sugar with artificial sweeteners. However, there is willingness to try alternative but natural sweeteners including honey, dried fruit and plant-based sweeteners.

This impact is extending to the younger generation as parents grow increasingly concerned about what their kids are eating. Knowing that sweet snacks are appealing to their little ones, parents are looking for manufacturers to come up with suitable alternatives. Of those asked, 51% of parents would like to see versions of their children’s favourite snacks with no added sugar. In response to these concerns, the government’s childhood obesity report also outlines plans to focus on products aimed at babies and young children in the future.  These demands are driving innovative solutions. For example, a well-known confectionery manufacturer has launched a 30% reduced sugar version one of their sweet brands using inulin, a plant-based sugar replacement.

Consumers attitudes towards sugar are changing and artificial replacements will not be endured by customers. These preferences are not to be ignored and will shape the ever-changing food and drink trends for the future. As government legislation continues to evolve, manufacturers must take action. To meet 2020 targets and appeal to customer demand, strong investment must be made in research and development and producers should maintain strong links with suppliers to collaboratively discover creative solutions.



‘Attitudes towards sweeteners’, Mintel, 2017

‘Childhood obesity: a plan for action,’ H.M Government, 2016

‘Mintel consumer report: sugar, gum and confectionery’, Mintel, 2015