Food firms should step up sugar cuts, say shoppers

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sugar sales have slipped in the past two years, according to Mintel
Sugar sales have slipped in the past two years, according to Mintel

Related tags: Sugar, Food, Mintel

Food firms should work harder to cut and communicate sugar content in their products, according to seven in 10 consumers responding to a survey by market analyst Mintel.

A total of 71% of poll participants believed the food and drink industry should be doing more to reduce the amount of sugar in its products.

In addition, three quarters thought food and drink companies should make it easier to understand how much sugar was in their products.

Almost six out of 10 said they felt cheated when a company wasn’t clear about the high sugar content of its products. More than four in 10 (44%) thought products should show more clearly if they contained sweeteners.

“The dangers related to consuming too much sugar became the major food issue of 2014​,” said Emma Clifford, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. “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.

‘Consumer backlash’

“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.”

Meanwhile, the research indicated that shoppers were making moves to slash sugar consumption.

A total of 46% of respondents said they had taken at least one course of action to monitor or reduce their sugar intake in the past year.

More than a quarter (27%) said they had checked food labels for sugar content more often than they did the year before.

A similar proportion (26%) said they had limited the amount of sugar in their diet and 25% claimed they had cooked from scratch more often over the same period to control sugar intake.

More than six in 10 of those appeared more likely to have taken action to reduce how much sugar they ate, highlighting a direct link between this and consumer behaviour, said Mintel.

“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,”​ said Clifford.

Sugar over-consumption

According to Mintel data, awareness of problems associated with sugar over-consumption appeared to have hit sales in 2013. Value sales rocketed by 18% year-on-year in 2012 to £346M, but slipped by 2% year-on-year in 2013, it said.

This decline accelerated dramatically in 2014, said Mintel, with sales estimated to have dropped 14% to £298M, accompanying a 9% decline in volume. The decline in the retail sugar market was expected to continue over the next three years, it said.

However, the rate of decline was expected to steadily abate, with the market stabilising between 2017 and 2018 at £258M, it said, claiming over the next five years that sales would fall by 13%.

That said, shoppers remained wary of artificial sweeteners’ health risks, according to Mintel’s figures, with sales in the sector falling by 5% in 2013 and the same rate of decline expected for 2014. Mintel estimated the value of the market to be £57M last year.

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