Mintel’s top consumer trend for 2017 is the backlash against sugar - and the opportunities it presents in sweet alternatives.
The UK is the latest country to have declared a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages which excludes 100% fruit-based and milk-based drinks. As a result, Mintel predicts these fruit-based and milk-based drinks will be able to compete more strongly with their sugary counterparts as they will not be impacted by the levy, regardless of their sugar content.
But this trend is not just limited to the UK. Consumers across Europe are turning against sugar in swathes. More than six in 10 Polish consumers surveyed (63%) said they are either actively reducing their sugar consumption or avoiding sugary foods, followed by 60% of Italians, 55% of French and 54% of Germans.
Research already suggests that companies intend to reduce the size of their packaging and reformulate to avoid the tax. Lucozade and Irn-Bru have launched sugar-free and zero calorie versions, for instance.
A sweet premium
There could also be an opening for premium soft drinks that use minimally processed sweeteners, such as agave syrup, or draw attention to their differentiating details. Little Miracles is an energising drink with botanical extracts that highlights the fact that it uses intrinsic cane sugar or beet sugar - although this kind of positioning could be short-lived, says Mintel, as agave syrup is itself made up of two thirds sugar.
Pushing the naturally-sweetened message may not be so easy, according to senior trends consultant Richard Cope.
“It’s also going to prove difficult for brands to play the “natural” card when pushing alternatives, because plant-based sweetening ingredients like stevia leaves have to be processed. When it comes to ‘natural’ it’s more likely that brands will look to profit from the simplicity of their bottled water lines,” he says.
A further worry for manufacturers is if the so-called sin tax is seen to be successful.
“The fear for brands is [that] similar legislation will be applied to other categories - baked goods and highly calorific coffees for example - and other countries, whether or not they are part of any trade union. The potential challenge for manufacturers of cakes, biscuits, sweets and ice cream would be far greater, because sugar is fundamental not just to taste but also to providing texture and bulk,” said Cope.
Finland, Norway, Hungary and France also have some form of sugar tax in place.