Cargill’s new consumer study investigated which gummy textures consumers like best.
Gummy supplements are endlessly popular, with no shortage of options for shoppers to pick from. But which type of gummy texture do consumers like best? To find out, Cargill (Minneapolis) conducted consumer research and shared its findings during October’s SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas.
A gummy’s material dictates its texture. (The following data can also apply to gummies that are confectionery in nature, not just gummy supplements.) For instance, said Cargill representatives, gelatin gummies (like gummy bears) are generally chewy and elastic. Pectin gummies are soft and flexible. Carrageenan gummies can range between soft/flexible and firm/brittle. Locust bean gum gummies are generally firmer. And at the far end, starch-based gummies (think Swedish Fish candies) are pastier and stick to the teeth when chewed.
To find out which of these consumers like, Cargill commissioned testing on 129 consumers. The company created six identical-looking and -flavored gummies: 1) pectin (with tapioca syrup), 2) pectin (starch and corn syrup), 3) pectin (corn syrup), 4) the company’s 250 Bloom gelatin (corn syrup), 5) carrageenan (corn syrup), and 6) starch (corn syrup). The study participants rated their reactions to each gummy.
Pectin-based gummies—all three versions—received the highest scores in terms of overall liking. The next most-liked gummies were gelatin, followed by carrageenan and lastly the starch gummies.
The study also further analyzed the responses and found that in general, the gummies could be classified into three groups: soft/smooth, hard/long chew, and waxy/teeth-sticking. The most-preferred gummy texture, the pectin gummies, was described as soft and smooth.
“The three preferred pectin gummies are softer and smoother, and they’re also associated with textures like ‘airy,’ ‘smooth,’ ‘breaks down into many pieces when chewing,’ ‘breaks down easily,’ and ‘soft,’” said Courtney LeDrew, senior marketing manager, Cargill (Wayzata, MN), at SupplySide West. “Those are some textures that were associated with those gummies, and those are the textures that consumers really preferred. The carrageenan gummy was kind of in that area also.”
“Then,” she continued, “if you go into the hard, long chew, that’s where the gummy gelatin was. So we would say that has medium appeal for consumers, that hard texture where it takes longer…And then the textures that were least appealing to consumers were ‘waxy’ and ‘sticks to my teeth,’ and these were associated with the starch gummy.”
But, she added, there was a group of consumers who did like the harder gelatin chew. “We found that there are these two distinct consumer segments that started to appear. So you do have that one group where gelatin is preferred, and then for the softer group, the three pectins are preferred.” In short, she said, 50% of consumers liked the softer texture while 50% liked the harder texture.
Opportunities for Pectin
What does this feedback mean for gummy makers?
Although Cargill’s consumer study showed that consumers ranked pectin gummies overall as “significantly more appealing,” most of the bestselling gummies currently on the market, both supplement and confectionery, are made with gelatin, said LeDrew.
“What that means for us or for manufacturers is if your current portfolio or your product offering might only be gelatin-based and a little bit chewy, there could be a whole other consumer group you’re not focusing on,” she continued. “So there is opportunity to produce a pectin gummy that would be softer, and maybe you’d be able to capture new consumers that you’re not capturing with the harder gummy, and vice versa.”
Although gelatin accounts for the biggest share of the gummies market, LeDrew said there’s room for pectin growth. (In 2021, Cargill opened a new pectin-production facility in Brazil.)
“There’s a lot of growing interest in pectin, and we recently opened a new pectin facility in Brazil to meet the growing demands for pectin,” LeDrew said. “We’re just seeing a huge increase…that leads us to believe that there’s still growth in this pectin space.”
Another advantage of formulating with pectin is that pectin accommodates flavor better than gelatin does, added Ravi Nana, technical service advisor, Cargill, at the show. “Of all gummies, pectin carries the flavor much better,” he said. “When you taste it, you will see that the flavor comes out quite nicely compared to gelatin. Gelatin—the taste of gelatin itself—doesn’t come out that strongly.”
It will take time for pectin to grow its share of the gummies market and compete more strongly with the current frontrunners, gelatin and starch. Formulators can also combine pectin and gelatin. “It will definitely affect the texture first because gelatin, as they say, is more springy and rubbery,” Nana said. “So that will bring it down a bit. Pectin is a shorter bite, so that will affect the texture.”
Finally, pectin can carry a plant-based claim and thus also satisfy markets in which consumers avoid animal products, such as in the Middle East.
This new information Cargill is sharing will help the supplier’s clients identify new opportunities. “We work with a lot of different customers, and we get a lot of questions about consumer preferences,” LeDrew said. “One of the questions we were getting was just what kind of textures consumers prefer in not only a confectionery gummy but a vitamin gummy.” This study provides new information they didn’t have before.