The arrival of natural low and no-calorie sweeteners has met an eager audience. Use of these products has doubled in the past six years as consumers have become more familiar with them.
According to Multi-sponsor Surveys, Inc., nearly three in ten (28%) adults have consumed foods or beverages sweetened with natural low/no-calorie sweeteners in the past year, up from 14% in 2006. This increase has been driven primarily by increased use of stevia-sweetened products and to a lesser extent by increased use of agave.
The increase appears to be widespread. Adults of all ages—from Millennials to Matures—are increasingly using these new natural low/no calorie sweeteners. And, older adults, who were initially slower to embrace these sweeteners, have made the biggest turnaround. The analysis noted that while increases was seen across all ages, use continues to be highest among the youngest adults, age 18-34 (see Table 1). Use also peaks among women, upscale adults, dieters and diabetics.
The assessment finds that the shift towards natural low/no cal sweeteners is not without ramifications—artificial low/no-calorie sweeteners have taken a hit. The share of adults reporting past year use of any artificial low/no-calorie sweeteners declined from 65% in 2006 to 52% in 2012, with older adults (age 65+) being the slowest to change and remaining more loyal to their favored yellow or blue sweetener packets.
Being natural does not appear to be the only factor driving the market. Increasingly, the data show that consumers recognize stevia sweeteners as healthy and good tasting, in addition to being natural. This combination of factors may be what is propelling stevia users in particular to be the ones to report an increase in their total consumption of low/no cal sweeteners.
According to Karen Bundy, V.P. of Food, Beverage & Nutritional Marketing at Multi-sponsor Surveys, “The word is out and consumers who use low/no-cal sweeteners are embracing natural alternatives. Natural has always been a selling point, but it is particularly strong in this category, which has long been associated with artificial ingredients.”
There are always skeptics, however, and 75% of adults still “don’t think any low/no-calorie sweeteners are completely natural.”This may explain why use of raw sugar has also been steadily growing to the point where 25% of adults now report regular use.