Sugar substitution: what consumers are looking for vs. what actually works

Sugar substitution: what consumers are looking for vs. what actually works


Most of us have a love-hate relationship with sugar. While we very often crave something sweet, we also know that too much sugar is far from healthy. So it’s not surprising that sugar is the most searched-for nutritional value.

Forty-five percent of consumers check the product packaging for the sugar content, our Taste Tomorrow global consumer research showed. For comparison: the fat content is sought after by only 36 percent.

Consumers are well aware of the health hazards that sugar poses, but what would they like food producers to do? There we see a great divide between what health professionals say, and what consumers think is best for them.

Let’s take a look at the consumer wishes and how they differ from reality with 7 questions:


What are consumers looking for when it comes to sugar substitution?

Our always-on research of online consumer behavior indicates that people perceive some sugar substitutes as healthier. But among the list of popular alternatives, we find honey, maple syrup, stevia, coconut sugar, molasses and chocolate. On social media channels, we see sugar substitutes trending as well, with influencers promoting erythritol as a natural sugar replacement. 


Where do we see this trend popping up?

Social media discussions and online searches around sugar alternatives are rising in the German, French, Japanese, Italian, Spanish and Russian speaking markets. In the Chinese, English and Portuguese language areas, the trend is stable. 


What are the underlying consumer motivations for sugar replacement?

Our AI tool not only analyzes trending topics on social media, but also reveals the underlying emotional needs that a trend reflects, giving insights into people’s motivations to eat a certain food or follow a specific diet. Consumers who look for sugar substitutes are after control and security. If you have any reduced-sugar products on offer, this will reassure consumers about the key benefits and give customers confidence in your communications.


What other food trends does it link to?

Of course, healthy eating is a major motivation for consumers who want to replace sugar (although the chosen alternative options aren’t always actually better for health). But the substitution is also driven by the desire to eat clean and natural food. Data by Spoonshot reveals that 30% of social media conversations linked to sugar reduction are about clean eating. Another 11% can be linked to natural foods. 


What are popular natural sugar substitutes?

There are over 70 varieties of sugar that pop up on ingredient lists, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact sugar content of a product. Furthermore, consumers are concerned about health risks linked to artificial sweeteners. So it is not surprising that natural sugar substitutes seem like a great alternative to many. Online, Stevia is the most popular natural ingredient for replacing sugar. Spoonshot research shows that 21% of conversations around sugar substitutes mention the ingredient. Coconut sugar accounts for 11% of conversations, and ‘natural sweeteners’ are talked about in 9% of discussions on social media.


Sugar substitution: what consumers are looking for vs. what actually works



Sugar substitution: what consumers are looking for vs. what actually works


Are natural sugar replacements actually healthier than refined sugar?

The alternatives that health-conscious consumers often lean toward – maple syrup, coconut sugar or honey – aren’t really that different from sugar. While the fructose levels might be slightly lower and there’s a tiny amount of nutrients, health-wise it makes no difference. The risks of for instance weight gain and type 2 diabetes are still present. So natural substitutes should not be considered a quick fix for health concerns. That is why, at Puratos, we purely focus on reducing sugar instead of replacing it with other types of ‘sugar’.


What would consumers like producers to do?

The major contribution that sugar makes to the taste of baked goods is clear to all, as nearly 7 out of 10 consumers in our global Taste Tomorrow research concurs. But they also know removing this ingredient will improve the nutritional profile of a bun, snack or pastry. Sixty-six percent think removing sugar from products (and their diets) will contribute to better health. To increase the health profile of their favorite snacks, consumers state they would prefer either smaller portions or healthier alternative ingredients. The latter is most popular with over 1 in 2 consumers looking for alternatives.


How to reduce sugar without compromising on taste

Texture, leavening, taste, preservation – sugar has a multitude of functions in patisserie and dessert goods. This makes reducing the sugar content of your products incredibly challenging. At Puratos, we’ve developed solutions with 30% sugar reduction for patisserie and 40% sugar reduction for chocolate that make it easier for you to meet the need for low sugar treats. Find out more on