photo of sweetener alternatives

Cutting Back On Sugar: Which Sweetener Alternatives Are Shoppers Choosing and Why?

The Rise of Sweetener Substitutes

The average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons of added sugar every day, translating to almost 60 pounds of added sugar per year, according to experts. That’s easy to understand when you realize that an estimated 74% of packaged foods have added sugars and there are 61 different names for sugars you’ll find on nutrition labels. The CDC estimates that 1 in 10 Americans has diabetes, and 1 in 3 American adults has prediabetes. Added sugars are prevalent in the American diet and so are the associated health risks.

Fortunately, there are good signs: Americans have taken efforts to reduce their added sugars consumption over the last decade, and the number of new diabetes cases in adults decreased significantly between 2008 and 2018. There are plenty of sugar-related health issues to tackle, like increased youth cases of diabetes, some demographics being disproportionately affected, and an increase in the number of adults with prediabetes. But some of those promising statistics suggest that Americans are paying more attention to the sugar on nutrition labels and ingredients lists before they head to the checkout line.

Sugar Scrutiny and the Growth of Smarter Sweeteners

Alternative Sweeteners and Innovation

Just because consumers are shying away from added sugars doesn’t mean they’re turning away from desserts and sugar entirely. Naturally occurring sugars are important components of a healthy diet, so the goal isn’t to replace sugar with synthetic substitutes. Brands have gotten wise to the fact that shoppers want to eliminate added sugars and replace them with sweeteners derived from natural sources. Innovative approaches to sweeteners are resonating with shoppers: When looking at year over year sales, monk fruit has grown 23%, sugar alcohols are up 8%, and stevia is up 2%.

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Beverages often contain added sugars and are considered one of the leading sources of unsuspecting sugar consumption for Americans. Now that added sugars are a popular topic, wary shoppers are opting for beverages with other sweeteners instead. Looking at year over year dollar sales for a 52-week period, SPINS data finds that sweetener alternatives are resonating with beverage buyers: Monk fruit is up 21%, sugar alcohols are 11%, stevia is up 3%. Kombucha is in an interesting spot, however. As a healthful beverage that contains many functional ingredients, it also has high sugar content and slowing sales. Emerging brands are beginning to bring new products with lower sugar content to the market, and time will tell if that brings back customers.

Shoppers are also aware of the high sugar content in ice cream, nut butters, and ketchup and barbeque sauce. In each category, the products with no sugar ingredients are outpacing their standard (sugary) counterparts.

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Less Sugar Aligns With Today’s Lifestyles

The vilification of sugar isn’t new, but it has been gaining ground in recent years, coinciding with shifting lifestyle habits that emphasize low-sugar diets. More shoppers have adopted diets, such as keto and whole30, that eliminate high-sugar products and focus more on proteins and unprocessed foods. From 2018 to 2020, certified keto product sales have grown by 24.9%. The increase from 2019-2020 growth was in line with the previous year’s trajectory, suggesting this bump isn’t coming from pandemic shopping. Customers are committing to these diets and buying accordingly.

According to SPINS data, keto items do not appear to be slowing down anytime soon as indicated by strong growth in the 3 most mature, top-selling categories:

Shelf Stable Oils & Vinegars
Shelf Stable Condiments, Dressings, & Marinades
Protein Supplements & Meal Replacements

Attributes Connect You With Customers

The move away from added sugars sounds simple, but as we mentioned before, there are dozens of ways to spot sweeteners on a label, and as more brands innovate that list will grow. Shoppers don’t always know that they’re opting for a specific ingredient over another—they just know that they’re avoiding certain ones. Whether you’re a brand or a retailer, though, you care about what they are buying, no matter what their reasoning is. That’s where shopper-centric attributes come into play.

SPINS Product Intelligence assigns attributes to products that are based on label claims and ingredients so that you can monitor trends and gain insights that simple transactional data won’t. This way, even if a product isn’t positioned as keto or free of added sugars, you can still track its sales because it falls under the sweetener-related attributes you care about. SPINS sweetener-related attributes include sweetener types (honey, aspartame, agave, and more), unsweetened (or only naturally sweetened), and diets (keto, paleo, whole 30, and more). The more you know about what shoppers are choosing and what dietary and lifestyle habits they’re adhering to, the better you can reach them with the right messaging, products, and promotions.

Brands: Gather Valuable Insights

If you’re interested in gaining more insights about the performance of sweeteners and associated diets, you can learn more here or contact us to discuss how our proprietary attribute data combined with insights and strategic analysis from our consulting team can help you make that determination.

Retailers: Deliver Customized Shopper Experiences

As a SPINS exclusive retailer, you have access to all of the SPINS attributes, including sweeteners, unsweetened, and associated dietary category that you can use to deliver more customized shopper experiences through your digital and instore channels.  If you are not yet a SPINS exclusive retailer, you can gain more Information here or contact us today at: [email protected]

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Sugar Scrutiny and the Growth of Smarter Sweeteners

As consumers continue to turn to new ways of eating, the vilification of sugar goes hand-in-hand with the popularity of Keto and Whole30 diets – both of which played a disruptive role across the food and beverage landscape.

As a result, the Natural Products Industry is turning to low/no calorie sweeteners more frequently. Take a deep dive into what the data is telling us and take informed actions.