Sliding sugar free sales
With the green light having been given to stevia in Europe, and with a continued effort to encourage consumers to cut back on sugared products as a weight loss strategy, it would be expected that the time has come for more sugar free chocolate confectionery products to enter the marketplace. But, global launches of low/no/reduced sugar chocolate products fell 19 per cent between 2010 and 2011, and indications of launch activity in the first three quarters of 2012 suggest that the slide is continuing.
The US, Belgium, Spain, and Brazil lead other nations in no/low/reduced chocolate launch activity and efforts in these four countries have been mixed: while the US has seen a significant reduction in launches of low/no/reduced sugar chocolate confectionery, efforts to bring more products with this claim to consumers in Spain and Belgium have been more robust.
Belgium takes off with stevia
Stevia is the newest sweetener being used to replace sugar, accounting for a miniscule number of launches since 2010; since EU legislation permitting stevia is a recent development, it is not surprising that the number of products using stevia has increased over the past year. Nonetheless, the ingredient is present in less than one per cent of new chocolate launches.
Belgian manufacturers are leading the way in experiments with stevia as a chocolate confectionery sweetener, accounting for 75 per cent of new stevia sweetened chocolate launches since 2010, the majority of which were introduced in 2012. The US, which is the second biggest market for stevia launches, has introduced just five per cent of new stevia-sweetened chocolate confectionery products.
Stevia is not the only non-sugar sweetener manufacturers are utilising in chocolate confectionery, but it is gaining headlines because of its position as a ‘natural sweetener,’ as opposed to an ‘artificial’ sugar replacement
Sugar free chocolate has traditionally been a small market. Consumers have not tended to gravitate towards these products, and since 2010, only two per cent of all chocolate introduced globally has had a low/no/reduced sugar designation.
Sales of sugar free chocolate explain what appears to be manufacturer reluctance to jump into the market, in the US, for example, the small sub-segment (comprising less than two per cent of the $18.2 billion (€13.9bn) US chocolate market), saw sales fall every year since 2007 and is forecasted to continue to slide over the next five years.
Consumer reluctance to buy into the sugar free chocolate category may reflect concern about ‘artificial’ ingredients. In the UK, for example, where sugar free chocolate is a fragment of the market, a third of chocolate consumers “would like to buy chocolate which uses natural sweeteners instead of sugar,” which indicates their desire to find an alternative to sugar, but suggests little interest in products made with artificial sweeteners.
Until stevia or some other ‘natural’ sweetener can deliver on the taste and mouthfeel that consumers associate with regular chocolate, however, it is likely that the sugar free market will remain a small one. Even with all the attention being paid to healthier eating, and to the importance of modifying diets in order to lose or maintain weight, consumers in general do not seem to want to move to the sugar free chocolate currently on the market. In the UK, more than half of chocolate consumers “would cut back on chocolate as part of a healthy eating regime,” suggesting that there is a greater likelihood to cut back on the product than to switch to a sugar free version.
By Marcia Mogelonsky, director of Insight at Mintel