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Canadians not so sweet on sugar: Mintel

Negative perception led to a 15% sales drop between 2011-16

Canadians are increasingly mindful of the negative effects of sugar on their overall health, yet are also unsure about where to turn for appropriate substitutes, according to new research from Mintel.

The report, Sweeteners and Attitudes Towards Sugar, says negative perceptions of sugar contributed to a 15% decline in sales between 2011 and 2016, to $215 million.

It also says “sugar backlash” is contributing to increased interest in alternative sweeteners, with the category growing 10% – from $66 million to approximately $74 million – in the same time period.

In addition, a “looming stigma” that artificial sweeteners are bad for their health is also driving consumers away from the category, says Mintel. “Sugar and alternative sweeteners must do more to bring clarity to the category and teach  how to easily make the transition to these alternatives to increase engagement,” the study urges.

Among the other key findings:

* 69% of Canadians say they are concerned about how sugar impacts their overall health, though more than three-quarters (77%) believe it’s fine to eat sugary food as an occasional treat. More than one-third (39%) of Canadians say they turn to sugary foods when they need an energy boost;

* 60% of consumers say there are so many types of sweeteners that it’s hard to know the difference between them. More than half (53%) say it’s hard to tell which sugar substitutes are natural and which are not;

* Consumers 45-54 are at the “peak” of conflict when it comes to sugar consumption and awareness of its impact on their health, with more than three-quarters (76%) saying they are concerned about its overall impact (versus 69% of the general population);

* Men 18-34 show an “elevated interest” in sugar substitutes at 30%, versus 21% of women the same age and 26% of people overall;

* 34% of fathers with people under 18 at home are more likely to be using sugar substitutes. Both segments are prioritizing low/no calorie as important characteristics when buying sugar or sugar substitutes;

* 45% of Canadians believe it is best to avoid food and drinks containing artificial sweeteners;

According to Mintel, consumer enthusiasm for baking has been on the rise, fuelled by a variety of factors including recipes and images on social media and the success of cooking shows.

“Marketers would therefore do well to consider helping consumers develop a better understanding of which products are natural, which are not and what the term ‘natural’ actually means,” says Mintel. “After all, if consumers cannot tell the difference, manufacturers run the risk of losing consumers who are not willing to try any sugar/alternative sweeteners they are less familiar with.”

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