Dieters, diabetics and others seeking low-calorie products spurred sales of sugar-free foods and beverages to a total of $5.9 billion last year. However, concern over potential health risks of artificial sweeteners is high. According to a recent report by Mintel International, more than 60 percent of American adults are concerned about the safety of artificial sweeteners.
The growth of sugar-free foods and beverages comes alongside several health trends, including the increase of diabetics in the U.S. Diabetic consumers need to cut sugars wherever possible and will make purchases based on sugar-free claims. Americans in general are also willing to make small changes in their diet to lose weight and improve health.
"While the sugar-free market is expanding, there is concern and confusion among some medical professionals and consumers as to the safety of these products," said Marcia Mogelonsky, senior analyst for Mintel. "The public is confronted with an array of facts and statistics that elevate health concerns and raise the issue of whether sugar-free is worth the potential risk."
Media attention and Food and Drug Administration statements have highlighted potential artificial sweetener risks. Various artificial sweeteners have generated debate over the past 20 years, with continuing discussion regarding potential health risks. Consumers are weighing the benefits of sugar-free products against these perceived risks, but sales have not been negatively affected.
Newer substitutes such as Splenda have been reinvigorating the market. In addition, new product introductions have been critical in fueling growth for the sugar-free category. This has especially been the case for gums, desserts, condiments and carbonated beverages. According to the Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), close to 3,000 new products have been introduced in the past three years that claim to have no, low or reduced sugar.
"The uncertainty is not stopping people from using sugar-free products, but as far as consumers are concerned, moderation is key once they have chosen the substitute they feel is safest," said Mogelonsky. "The majority of consumers believe that some artificial sweeteners are safer than others, giving producers the chance to win customers' trust by focusing on their safety."
Product positioning and generational perspectives are factors pointing to further growth in this market, with sales predicted to grow to $7.7 billion by 2010. If the health benefits can outweigh the perceived risks, then younger adults will continue using sugar-free products as they start families of their own.
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