Cargill Research Finds Consumers Prioritize Sugar Content Over Sweetener Type


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Minneapolis — Sugar content remains a key influencer for America’s grocery shoppers, with 62 percent reporting they are likely to check the amount of sugar before purchasing a new product, according to a study on sweetener claim impact, sponsored by Cargill, Inc.

As part of the research, Cargill explored the package claims consumers were most likely to check, what influence those claims had on purchase intent and how demographics and product categories influenced perceptions and behaviors around package claims. 

The survey, conducted in 2021, included approximately 1,200 U.S. grocery shoppers.

“Our findings suggest consumers’ sugar-reduction journeys are ongoing,” says Carla Saunders, senior marketing manager for Cargill’s high intensity sweetener lines. She also notes that the research offers other key insights for brands as they lay out parameters for future product innovation projects.

The survey also found evidence that sweetener claims could influence purchases. Those that fared best in the study typically implied “natural” or “no artificial,” including “naturally sweetened” and “made with a natural sweetener.”

“The popularity of these types of claims — especially sugar-reduction — have been amplified by COVID-19, building on the ‘clean eating’ trends we’ve been tracking for several years,” Saunders explains. “Products with these on-pack labels are often perceived as less processed and more healthful. That aligns with the demands of today’s more health-conscious consumers who are seeking to manage their health and wellness goals through food and beverage choices.”

While the importance of sugar content and the popularity of label-friendly terminology showed widespread appeal, the research did uncover nuances in consumer perceptions, based on age and market segment. 

While claims around natural sweeteners resonated with all adults, they were most impactful with Gen X and Baby Boomers. No artificial sweetener claims carried the most weight with Gen Z and Gen X.

Among sugar/calorie claims, “lower in sugar” had the greatest purchase impact, across demographic groups.

Claims around sweeteners, sugar and calories had the highest impact in categories consumers associate more closely with nutrition, such as yogurt, cereals and snack bars. Conversely, these claims carried less importance in indulgent categories like candy.

Saunders adds that brands can use these findings to guide their product development efforts, but emphasizes that formulators must still prioritize the sensory attributes of their finished products.

“The pandemic amplified consumers’ health and wellbeing concerns, and sugar intake is clearly one way they’re striving to better manage their overall wellness,” she says. “At the same time, products must taste great to earn repeat purchases. Finding a sweetening solution that can deliver on both fronts is key to long-term marketplace success.”