Stephanie Mattucci, global food science analyst for Mintel, said at a recent PureCircle event that there have been “significant changes” in the food industry driving more authenticity and clean label products. PureCircle is a manufacturer of stevia products for companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Danone.
Natural claims, in particular, have benefited, with such claims up 26% as a category over the last five years. What’s driving this change? Claims such as GMO-free in food and drink launches are up 471% from 2011 to 2015. In that same time period, organic claims are up 111% and no-additive/no-preservative claims are up 31%.
What’s not doing well is the “all-natural” claim, as consumers desire more specific label claims.
How does stevia fit in?
Mattucci said consumers are “concerned and overwhelmed” with sweeteners currently on the market. Two-thirds of consumers said there are so many sweeteners available that it is hard to tell the difference.
Even so, she said many people are interested in learning more about how these non-sugar sweeteners are made. Additionally, 70% of US consumers who use sugar or sugar substitute are concerned about its health impact, while 23% believe they consume more sugar than the recommended daily amount. The opportunity for a low- or no-calorie substitute comes as 32% of consumers who use sugar substitutes do so to reduce calories.
Brands are already starting to reformulate to remove ingredients, with labels such as “aspartame-free” becoming more popular. Four-in-10 consumers want to see more “artificial free” labels, something stevia can benefit from, Mattucci said.
Already, 30% of consumers perceive stevia as “natural,” a number she noted is very high compared with other sweeteners on the market.
A similar challenge and opportunity remains in Europe, Mattucci said, as 44% of UK consumers believe artificial sweeteners are bad for you. In this survey, she said stevia was perceived as an artificial sweetener. A third of consumers in France, Germany, Spain and Italy actively avoid food and drinks with artificial sweeteners and added preservatives, with about 50% trying to avoid sugar and approximately 33% avoiding artificial sweeteners.
Consumers, organizations armed with more information
Mattucci said media, bloggers and even corporations have all played roles in making artificial ingredients the “villain”.
“In general we see consumers have a mistrust of the food industry, but they have more information than ever before,” she said. Because of this shift toward simplicity, there’s a drive toward more natural, simple products that can “cut through some of that noise”.
With 37% of consumers believing products with a “free-from” claim are worth paying for and 53% worrying about potentially harmful ingredients in food, education on what ingredients go into each product may go a long way toward easing the mind of the average consumer.
The stevia industry, in particular, could benefit from information of what the product is and where it comes from. Using packaging that plays up stevia as being a plant could help stevia’s image, Mattucci said.
One thing that could potentially help drive consumers toward products like stevia is if the US Food and Drug Administration adds “added sugar” and the percent of sugar’s daily value on packaging, something that is nearly sure to happen by 2017.
Mattucci said this has potential to have a similar effect on the US consumer that the UK’s Action on Sugar, a coalition between food manufacturers, the government and other stakeholders looking to reduce sugar intake. Those who saw this campaign were said to more actively avoid sugar. She said there could be a similar effect in the US if FDA labeling changes are made.