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‘No added sugar’ claims are growing in Europe, with the UK leading the charge as it has the highest proportion (15 %) of European food and drink launches carrying this claim in the past five years, followed by Germany (13 %) and France (10 %). In Poland, ‘no added sugar’ claims have doubled since 2016, reaching 9 % of food and drink launches in 2021.

According to Mintel’s latest consumer research, almost three out of five (59 %) French and German consumers are trying to limit their sugar intake, rising to 65 % of respondents in Poland and 67 % in Spain. However, over half of German (54 %) and (53 %) French* consumers simply prefer eating less indulgent products instead of consuming more ‘light/diet’ alternatives. This is especially true for carbonated soft drinks, with Polish (38 %)** and German (37 %)** consumers being the most likely to agree that ‘better-for-you’ carbonated soft drinks do not feel like a treat.

Neha Srivastava, Food and Drink Patent Analyst at Mintel, said:

“The pandemic has amplified the need for indulgence, influencing consumers’ choice of food and drink. At the same time, the pandemic has seen people place a higher priority on their health by, for example, reducing their sugar intake – but they don’t want to compromise on taste.

“Food and drink companies are starting to pay more attention to cutting sugar from their products. Based on the percentage of granted patents currently active in Europe, France and Germany are among the top five leading countries with the majority of patent grants related to sugar reduction, each accounting for 5 % of all global patent grants. Recent patent activity related to sugar reduction varies from improving the taste of sweeteners to innovating new techniques to reduce the production cost of rare sugars.”

Functional fibre and next-gen stevia could appeal as natural alternatives

Functional fibres in low/reduced sugar food and drink launches are on the rise, increasing globally from 11 % in 2015 to 19 % in 2020. Inulin is the most common functional fibre in low/reduced sugar products, with product launches containing inulin having tripled in the past five years, rising to 9 % in 2020 from 3 % in 2015.

With 63 %*** of Germans concerned about how sugar reduction in food and drink is achieved, combining fibres with sugar to reduce overall sugar content could be an option worth exploring as an alternative. This could also appeal to the 29 %**** of Brits that are interested in more fruit juices, juice drinks and smoothies with high fibre content.

Alternatively, stevia as a plant-based sweetener has the potential to appeal to European consumers as a sugar substitute. In fact, 63 %*** of Germans have no concerns about the amount of plant-based sweeteners (such as stevia) used in food and drink.

Neha Srivastava, Food and Drink Patent Analyst at Mintel, said:

“Consumers are aware of the importance of fibres in maintaining gut health. Brands can leverage this awareness by repositioning them as a multifunctional health ingredient that helps reduce sugar content in food and drink whilst improving gut health.

“Stevia continues to gain traction in food and drink launches because of its naturalness and zero calorific value, but its bitter and lingering aftertaste remains a significant barrier. Recent patent innovations to improve taste issues and physicochemical properties, like purity and solubility, to produce next-generation stevia may help overcome the challenge.

“Innovators are looking for alternative approaches, such as the use of sweet flavouring agents and aromas as a promising option to reduce sugar content in new food and drink products – especially in dairy desserts. This can be a promising option to reduce sugar content by providing sweet perception in brain cells.”

*987 internet users aged 16+ who try to eat/drink healthily, France; 1,955 internet users aged 16+ who try to eat/drink healthily, Germany; 997 internet users aged 16+ who try to eat/drink healthily, Spain; 988 internet users aged 16+ who try to eat/drink healthily, Poland; March 2021
**1,000 internet users aged 16+ in Poland and 2,000 internet users aged 16+ in Germany, December 2020
***2,000 internet users aged 16+, Germany, June 2020
****2,000 internet users aged 16+, UK, October 2020
*****1,000 internet users aged 16+, Italy and Spain, September 2020

Historically the juice and squash category’s growth were hampered by sugar taxes and a negative health image, however, this trend is set to reverse in the coming years. The industry has a forecast growth of 4 % from $ 52.4 bn in 2020 to $ 54.6bn in 2021*, bolstered by health concerns which are seeing consumers prioritise ‘immunity-boosting’ claims over ‘sugar free’, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

GlobalData’s survey found that almost two thirds (61 %) of consumers globally spend a mid to high amount on juice**.

Elisabet Gonzalez, Innovation Team Leader at GlobalData, comments: “Due to the pandemic consumers are more worried about their health and this could be the reason behind the juice category’s success at maintaining its appeal during this tough period. Boosting the immune system has become a top priority for shoppers, hence, functional juice drinks and healthy beverages that offer nutrition-rich ingredients are likely to stand out on the shelves and keep strong positioning.”

GlobalData identifies that health & wellness is a popular trend and a key theme in the juice industry. Some examples of innovative product launches include a Morinaga Sunkist super grape juice in Japan, which is said to contain ‘juice-derived polyphenols. Polyphenols are believed to improve the treatment of weight management difficulties, digestion issues, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. In the US, Softresco launched a charcoal fruit drink shot, which offers a fruit drink with added vegetable charcoal. The infusion of activated charcoal may resonate with the 35 % of US consumers that think charcoal will have a positive impact on their health***.

Gonzalez continues: “While out-of-home juice consumption has taken a dip due to lockdown restrictions, at-home consumption and expenditure seems to be steady for the category as it is expected to post a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.6 % over 2021-2025 to reach $ 60.4bn*. Juice drinks might be seen by consumers as the perfect beverage to help them fight the virus, as it can provide the ideal dose of vitamins and nutrients needed to boost the immune system in an easy and convenient format for both children and adults.

“The COVID-19 pandemic could help some brands to strengthen their positioning and to reinvent themselves as a must-have product, rather than a beverage bought only for specific occasions. The health benefits of fruit juices and their many functional positioning possibilities, aligns well with today’s consumers’ needs, hence, there is a huge opportunity for the category to grow in the long-term and maintain its momentum in a post-pandemic era.”

*Data from GlobalData’s Global Market Data: Channel Insights Cube
**Data taken from GlobalData’s 2021 Q1 Consumer Survey.
***Data taken from GlobalData’s 2019 Q3 global consumer survey

Clean and clear labeling concerns are now well established in the food and beverage industry, having featured as a key and running theme through all Innova Market Insights’ Top Trends forecasts in recent years. More than ten years ago ‘Go Natural’ led the Company’s annual top trends listing and since then clean label claims have developed and featured each year in different forms, increasingly weaving throughout the entire trends listings until they are now regarded as a given.

The term ‘clear labeling,’ which Innova Market Insights coined for its 2015 trends listing, has now fully entered industry parlance, being used in several company marketing campaigns, with new commitments on a clean or clear platform regularly.

Its increasingly mainstream status is illustrated in the fact that nearly 28 % of global food and beverage launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2018 used one or more clean label claims (natural, organic, no additives/preservatives and GMO-free), rising to nearly 39 % in the US.

There have also been associated rises in interest in related clean label areas such as vegan-friendly, raw and paleo diets, and also in the focus on minimal processing, including the use of techniques such as cold-pressing and high-pressure treatment. This is running alongside increasingly wide ethical concerns, including fair trade and sustainability, packaging, the environment, and animal welfare.

No additives/preservatives claims continue to feature most strongly, used for just over 15 % of global launches in 2018, rising to over 20 % in the US. The US generally sees higher levels of use of all types of clean label positionings and is also particularly notable for the strong position of GMO-free labeling. This featured on 17.8 % of launches, compared with under 6 % globally and was also the number two clean label claim in the US overall, well ahead of both organic on just over 13 % and natural on just over 8 %.

Flavor is still the number one factor influencing purchasing decisions, reports Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights. “But it is clear that in recent years, the clean label trend has broadened out into a wider movement, focusing on an increasingly mindful consumer trying to make responsible food choices that are not only tasty and healthy but also sustainable and ethical.”

While interest in clean label has kept organic and GMO free claims in the spotlight in many countries, rising levels of competition mean that product offerings have had to become much more sophisticated, focusing more on value-added products and combining both specialist organic brands and organic and GMO free variants in existing conventional ranges.

Organic or GMO claims alone may not now be enough and companies are focusing on additional benefits including other related clean-label areas such as vegan-friendly, raw, and paleo diets, as well as local ingredients and sourcing, minimal processing and unusual and premium-style recipes and flavors, including the use of seasonal and limited editions.