Consumers prioritize sugar content over sweetener type, says new research from Cargill

Cargill found that sugar content remains a key influencer for American grocery shoppers with 62% of consumers reporting that they are likely to check the amount of sugar before purchasing a product.

A sweetener claim impact study sponsored by Cargill found that sugar content remains a key influencer for American grocery shoppers with 62% of consumers reporting that they are likely to check the amount of sugar before purchasing a product. As part of the research, Cargill surveyed approximately 1,200 U.S. grocery shoppers, exploring the package claims they 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.

According to the study, American shoppers are more likely to check the amount of sugar in a product versus looking for a specific sweetener of claim. However, sweetener claims did impact purchase decisions. Claims of “natural” or “no artificial” ingredients such as “naturally sweetened” or “made with natural sweeteners” had the greatest impact on consumers.

“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,” said Carla Saunders, senior marketing manager for Cargill’s high intensity sweetener lines, in a press release. “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.”

Researchers also observed nuances in consumer perception, based on age and market segment. Claims around natural sweeteners resonated among all adults, but had the greatest impact on Gen X and Baby Boomers, while no artificial sweetener claims had the greatest impacts on Gen Z and Gen X consumers. Among sugar and calorie claims, “lower in sugar” had the greatest impact on purchases across all demographic groups, but these claims had the most impact with products associated more closely with nutrition such as yogurt, cereal, and snack bars, compared to indulgent categories such as candy.

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