Demand for natural sugar is on the rise, as consumers start to turn away from 'unnatural' sweetener products, according to the nation's Sugar Association, an industry body concerned with the promotion of sugar.
The association, whose member companies are producers and growers of sugar in the US, is basing its conclusion on the nation's latest agricultural trade data, published last week by the US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (USDA/ERS).
According to the Sugar Association, the data reveals an estimated increase in sugar deliveries for domestic use in 2005-2006, which follows an almost continuous decline since 1976.
"Needless to say, we feel consumers have sweetener overload. Unlike twenty years ago when you could count sweetening ingredients on one hand, now there are 26 sweeteners being used in foods in the U.S. today. And consumers are beginning to return to what they feel is proven, safe and all natural - sugar," said Andy Briscoe, president of the Sugar Association.
"When consumers find out that sugar has just 15 calories in a teaspoon, they question the value of artificial and other man-made sweeteners in today's marketplace," he added.
However, while the Sugar Association is concerned with promoting the goodness of sugar as part of a healthy diet, consumer trends since the late 1970's prove that not everyone is convinced.
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 sweetener market is set to grow at around 8.3 per cent year on year until 2008, with sales rising from a small base of $81m in 1998 to $189m in 2008.
A recent report from Business Communications (BCC) predicts that although sugar alcohols and HIS (high intensity sweeteners) are still relatively new and unexplored sweeteners in the $10.92 billion global sweetener market, their presence in the market is growing rapidly.
Total global sugar alcohol production was estimated at 836,905 tons, up 2.2 percent over last year. US consumption of sugar alcohols was estimated at 376,640 tons, nearly 79 percent of the total production of these sweeteners. In the next five years consumption of sugar alcohols and HIS is slated to rise as much as 15 percent as new sweeteners make their debut, and improvements come about in those already in wide use.
According to market analyst Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD), a total of 3,920 products containing sweeteners were launched in the US between 2000 and 2005. The data reveals a steady increase in these products between 2000 and 2004, when 215 and 1,649 products were launched respectively. However, product launches have fallen around 58 percent in 2005, with only 684 new products recorded to date.