“Sugar’s big, but not beloved,” according to The State of Sugar, a report from Social Standards. The report analyzed 5.5 million worldwide social media conversations about sweeteners and found that, while sugar is still the most talked-about sweetener, consumers have consistently lower positive attitudes about sugar than about alternative sweeteners. Consumers’ favorite sweeteners were xylitol, coconut sugar, and monk fruit.

During the past year, the number of social media conversations about sugar grew faster than conversations about food and beverage as a whole. There were twice as many mentions sugar than of honey and 100 times more comments about sugar than about monk fruit. 

However, while sugar is the most talked-about sweetener, conversations around many other sweeteners are growing at a faster pace.

1-year growth in conversations surrounding sweeteners:

  • Erythritol +209% 
  • Monk fruit +124%
  • Xylitol +110%
  • Sucralose +63%
  • Sugar +40%
  • Stevia +39%
  • Coconut sugar +14%  
  • Honey -3% 
  • Agave -4%
  • Maple syrup -5%           

As sugar alternatives become more recognized and popular, “sugar is almost certain to give up some of its market share,” concludes the report. “Both chocolate and coffee are particularly susceptible to changing attitudes toward sugar, as consumers increasingly seek out alternative sweeteners they can pair with these products without sacrificing flavor.”

These findings probably come as no surprise, given recent coverage of the potential negative health effects of too much sugar. Limiting sugar intake was the top way people said their diets had changed, according to the 2019 Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation. This survey found the top four reasons consumers didn’t use sugar were:

  • I don’t need to add sweetness
  • I don’t want the extra calories
  • I think it helps me lose/maintain weight
  • I think sugar is unhealthy

As food manufacturers consider the implications of consumer concern about sugar, they might also look at the results of a another recently published study that analyzed 393,568 unique food product reviews from Amazon customers. Almost 0.8% of the reviews used the phrase “too sweet.” In addition, the study identified other words implying a food was too sweet and found reviews mentioned over-sweetness over 25 times more often than under-sweetness.

“It is interesting that consumers complained more about products being ‘too sweet’ rather than ‘not sweet enough,’” stated the study, “indicating that the over-sugaring of processed foods is undesirable for some people and that offering a range of sweetness of products might be even more important than previously realized.”

This study’s findings are supported by 2018 Kerry research that found 27% of American consumers want products to taste less sweet and 46% strongly want to reduce their consumption of sugar.

Another consideration is the new FDA-required nutrition labels that mandate the listing of added sugars. The new labels will help consumers more easily understand the sugar content of a food product. In a 2018 Ingredion study, many consumers said the listing of added sugars would affect their purchase decisions.

For food manufacturers, sugar reduction can be a complicated issue. But consumer demand and health considerations require that manufacturers look at what they can do to offer products with less sugar.