Natural sweeteners loosen sugar's hold in soft drinks

Innova Market Insights

Tuesday, 24 May, 2016

The announcement of the UK’s ‘sugar tax’ has further sparked interest in reduced-sugar and diet drinks, a segment already on the rise thanks to increased focus on obesity and sugar intake. But is this translating into actual product launches?

In 2015, an Innova Market Insights survey found that sugar content influences the purchasing decision of soft drinks for 57% of consumers in the USA. For the UK, where a sugar tax will come into force in 2018, the figure is 60%. For Mexico, where a sugar tax is already in place, 57% of respondents said that sugar content influences their purchasing decision of soft drinks.

In its analysis of global soft drinks launches, Innova Market Insights found that over 16% of new products in the 12 months to the end of March 2016 used either a no-added-sugar, low-sugar or sugar-free claim. This type of positioning was particularly popular in juices and juice drinks, featuring in about one-fifth of total introductions and rising to over 30% in the USA.

Rising alongside the trend for sugar reduction has been a continuing focus on clean label formulations. This has worked against some existing zero- or low-kilojoule sweeteners and caused a backlash against some ingredients perceived to be ‘artificial’.

The result has been an increased interest in natural sweeteners, with spreading regulatory approval for stevia sweeteners in markets such as the USA, Australia and the EU. Soft drinks accounted for 20% of launches featuring stevia in the 12 months to the end of March 2016.

However, penetration has not proceeded as fast as expected in some segments, with stevia featuring in just under 4% of global soft drink launches in the 12 months to the end of March 2016, rising to 8% in the USA. It has, however, featured in some high-profile launches, such as Coca-Cola Life and Pepsi True.

Stevia is being more widely used in other drinks categories such as juice, juice drinks and flavoured bottled water.

Other natural sweeteners that are finding favour are often used in combination with sugar, stevia and/or other sweeteners such as erythritol. Honey and agave are proving particularly popular and there is also growing interest in the use of monk fruit.

So far, launch activity has been relatively limited in comparison with stevia and is mainly focused on the USA.

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