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Finding a sweet spot in natural sweetener promotions

KANSAS CITY – Marketing strategies emphasizing honey and organically certified are two popular ways to promote sweeteners as natural. Stevia promotions have gained in number over the past decade, and this decade may see the emergence of regenerative agriculture promotions.

While promoting any sugar reduction efforts may catch the attention of consumers, natural sweeteners in children’s products especially may appeal to parents.

Emergen Research, Surrey, BC, forecasts the global natural sweeteners market to have a nearly 7% compound annual growth rate from 2021 to 2030, growing to $5.3 billion from $2.9 billion. Increasing use of stevia, honey, coconut, sugar, monk fruit and other sweeteners will drive the growth.

Persistence Market Research, New York, forecasts the global organic honey market to have a compound annual growth rate of nearly 8% to go over $1.8 billion by the end of 2032. In the United States, organic honey accounted for 11.7% of the market in 2021, according to Nielsen Scantrak data for the week ended Dec. 4, 2021, said Catherine Barry, director of marketing for the National Honey Board, Erie, Colo.

“The only claim honey needs is its name,” she said. “It’s one of the few sweeteners that consumers readily identify as natural because of its source. Concerns for honeybees and a greater understanding of the role they play in our entire food ecosystem has created a very positive environment for honey’s use in a variety of food and beverage products.

“Food manufacturers are starting to understand that when they formulate a product with honey, they’re helping support beekeepers’ efforts to keep healthier bees. And consumers are connecting the dots between buying products made with honey and supporting beekeepers and honeybees.”

A July 2021 survey from the National Honey Board found 87% of respondents considered honey to be natural and 81% considered it to be healthy.

Not just organic

Think of Regenerative Organic Certified as organics-plus.

“Today’s consumers expect to find organic options wherever and whenever we shop, but organic isn’t all we want,” said Cate Batson Baril, marketing manager for Global Organics Ltd., Cambridge, Mass., which offers certified organic food ingredients to manufacturers and wholesalers. “Fair trade is at least as important to most consumers as is animal welfare. There can be great frustration when you have to choose between good programs instead of finding an option with everything you’re seeking. For example, should I choose the organic or the fair trade bananas? Is it better to buy pasture-raised or organic eggs? What were the farmer workers paid?”

Global Organics this year recognized sugar-producer Native for becoming Regenerative Organic Certified. The sugar is 100% carbon neutral from the fields to warehouses in North America and Europe. Native offers labor and social programs for employees and the community. The sugar has increased yields and higher resistance to drought and pest damage when compared to other sugar, according to the company.

A group of farmers, ranchers, business leaders along with experts in soil health, animal welfare and social farmers in 2017 formed the Regenerative Organic Alliance, the non-profit organization behind the Regenerative Organic Certification.

“Regenerative organic farming can mitigate the climate crisis, soil degradation and biodiversity loss,” Ms. Baril said. “Through regenerative practices, the soil organic matter is built up over time, sequestering atmospheric carbon in the soil and eliminating the need for harmful and expensive herbicides and pesticides.”

A Pew Research Center poll on climate change found 72% of people are concerned that climate change will harm them personally during their lifetime, she said.

“We are just beginning to see the first ROC products on shelf,” Ms. Baril said. “This means we’re just too early to have sales data showing that consumers are actively choosing to purchase ROC products.”

Appealing to parents

Research from Cargill, Minneapolis, suggests consumers are more likely to check the amount of sugar in a product compared to checking for a specific sweetener or claim, said Courtney LeDrew, senior marketing manager. Sixty-two percent said they were extremely likely or very likely to check the amount of sugar on the Nutrition Facts Label.

“When it comes to product categories for kids, claims of naturally sweetened, no artificial sweeteners and made with a natural sweetener resonate strongly,” Ms. LeDrew said. “For kids, natural and no artificial claims have the most impact in yogurt and snack bars, yet cereal, juice and flavored milk also ranked high with two-thirds of parents more likely to purchase products in those categories with the product claim on pack.”

Natural sweetener claims overall have less of an impact than less sugar or reduced sugar claims, said Kerry Kenny, chief technology officer for Apura Ingredients, Inc., Chino, Calif.

“Consumers are more aware of nutritional panels and realize front of label claims can be misleading,” he said. “A product claiming ‘naturally sweetened’ may have more sugars, calories, or carbs, which is not conducive for a healthy lifestyle.”

Parents of young children show the most concern with ingredients and labeling, Mr. Kenny said.

“As consumers became more aware of the options and alternatives, they have been more prudent in their buying decisions,” he said. “Millennials are also becoming more aware of nutritional panels, looking for lower sugar and natural or organic claims.”