According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, individuals over the age of two years should limit their added sugar intake to 10% of their total daily calories (e.g. for a 2,000 calorie diet, no more than 200 calories should come from added sugars, the equivalent of approximately 12 teaspoons). The CDC reported that in 2017–2018, the average intake of added sugars was 17 teaspoons for adults aged 20 and older.
While the average sugar intake of most consumers remains elevated, many are paying more attention to sugar content on labels according to NPD Group's research which found that for 56% of adults 18-years-old and older pay most attention to the sugar content of a product above other key elements of the nutrition facts label including calories (45%) and sodium (38%).
Yet, demand for sweetener alternatives is at an all-time high proving that sweetness is in demand.
"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," noted SPINS in a report.
"Brands have learned that shoppers are interested in keeping sugars in their diet, but they want them to be derived from natural sources."
According to NielsenIQ data, there were an estimated 5.1 million online searchers for "no-sugar products" in 2021 with searches for products with stevia accounting for 2.1 million searches followed by monk fruit with 1.2 million searches last year.
Stevia, monk fruit, sugar alcohols?
SPINS data across all natural and conventional products showed that dollar sales of products containing monk fruit (+20%), stevia (+15%), and sugar alcohols (+3%) are all up year-over-year during the 52-week period ended Jan. 31, 2022.
In a category such as beverages where consumers have become more wary of the amount of sugar used, SPINS found a year-over-year increase in sales of products containing coconut sugar (+21%), sugar alcohols (+20%), and stevia (+10%). Dollar sales of beverages containing monk fruit were up +1.3% in the latest 52-week period.
Consumers' attention to sugar content isn't just limited to beverages, however, shoppers have also become increasingly aware of sugar in jerky & meat snacks, cookie & snack bars, and candy, noted SPINS, which found that dollar sales growth in each category of products with 'no sugar ingredients' are outpacing their conventional higher-sugar counterparts.
Keto, no sign of slowing down?
Several dietary trends and will continue to drive low- and zero-calorie sweeteners, noted SPINS.
"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 2021, certified keto product sales have grown by 14.9%," said SPINS, which does not anticipate the keto trend slowing down in the near future.
In the three most mature top-selling categories, keto items have grown steadily on a year-over-year basis. In shelf-stable soda & carbonated beverages, sales of products making keto claims increased +10.4%, shelf-stable water (+5%), and refrigerated creams & creamers (+4.6%).
Future shopper behavior
"The move away from added sugars sounds simple, but 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," said SPINS, noting that brands that focus on a natural sweetener positioning are poised to meet growing consumer demand for low- and zero-sugar products.