Growing concerns about obesity and type-2 diabetes are driving low-sugar, sugar-free or sugar substituted products, says a new survey from the NPD Group.
The survey reports that about 70 percent of adult Americans want to cut down or avoid sugar completely, with 40 percent admitting they check food labels regularly for sugar content.
"There's little doubt that Americans right now are increasingly concerned about sugar consumption," said Harry Balzer, vice president of The NPD Group. "But we've been here before; back in the 1980s, nearly 60 percent of Americans expressed concern about the sugar they were consuming, before declining during the early 1990s. I suspect we'll see the same trend during the next 10 years."
According to the NPD Group, 44 percent of American homemakers are extremely or very concerned about serving foods with sugar, with over 50 percent of consumers noting they are aware of and concerned about high fructose corn syrup, one of the most commonly-used sweeteners today.
As a result, the consumption of foods and beverages that are low-sugar, sugar-free, or contain sugar substitutes is on the rise. In the year ending November 2006, 20 percent of Americans ate a low-sugar/sugar-free/artificially sweetened food item at least once in a two-week period, up six per cent from 14 percent in 2001.
Use of sugar substitutes to sweeten beverages is also increasing, with more than 10 per cent of coffee drinkers using sugar substitutes in 2006 - up from eight percent nine years earlier.
According to the USDA/ERS, sugar consumption has been in decline for almost three decades, reaching a low in 1986 when it dropped by almost 50 percent to just over 40 pounds per person.
Concerns about obesity, based on mounting evidence that the phenomenon is becoming an epidemic, have been a primary consumer incentive to avoid sugar. The disease, which is thought to lead to health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, currently affects more than 64 percent of the nation's adult population and 16 percent of children.
Rising health concerns in society have seen consumers turn towards sugar free products, and food makers introduce zero-calorie or low-calorie sugar substitutes into their new product formulations.
Indeed, the competitive sweetener industry is enjoying considerable growth above the industry average as consumers turn away from sugar-heavy foods and beverages to 'lite' versions.
According to market analysts Freedonia, the alternative sweetener market is set to grow at around 4.0 per cent per year to $1.1bn in 2010.
A recent survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) reported that Americans remained concerned about the amount (70 percent in 2007 versus 63 percent in 2006) and the type (58 percent versus 53 percent) of sugar they ate.
Despite these health concerns, "taste" and "price" continued to have the greatest impact on Americans' food-buying decisions.
Eighty-eight percent of Americans considered taste to be priority when buying food, while 72 percent believed price was most important and 65 percent put the emphasis on whether the food was healthy.