Given the ongoing criticism of high-fructose corn syrup, beet sugar and processed alternative sweeteners, it's no wonder that sales of sugar and sweeteners have been lackluster. Data from IRI show dollar sales of sugar and sugar substitutes flat at eAE0.21 percent and down 2.9 percent, respectively, during the 52 weeks ending May 15. Consumers' interest in eating foods that are less processed and better for them continues to grow, and many forms of sugar and sweeteners don't mesh with this mindset.
However, this growing desire for more natural foods also could explain why some growth pockets exist in the sugar and sweetener category. For instance, while white sugar saw a slight decline, brown/powdered/flavored sugar saw healthy growth of 5.1 percent during the period. Some brands that focused on more natural offerings enjoyed improved sales, such as Wholesome Sweeteners, whose dollar sales of brown/powdered/flavored sugar grew 8.2 percent during the period. Likely helping the company's growth were such recent launches as its Wholesome! Live Sweetly Natural Raw Cane Turbinado Sugar, made from sustainably grown sugar cane from Malawi and communicating its "raw" form by highlighting its production process on the packaging.
Indeed, several companies are using "raw" claims to distinguish their products from competitors'. Market research firm Mintel, in its October 2015 "Sweeteners and Sugar" Category Insight, reports that 45 percent of total new sugar and sweetener launches during the 12 months up to October 2015 carried some sort of natural claim, an increase of 12 percentage points over the same period the year prior. This has pushed some manufacturers to use "raw" claims to make their products stand out in an increasingly cluttered category.
On the alternative sweetener side, the new product saturation may have contributed to several companies experiencing flat or lower dollar sales during the period, according to the IRI data. "Raw" claims on new products could be what helped Wisdom Natural Brands log an 18.9 percent dollar sales gain while competitors saw flat or decreased sales: The company markets its SweetLeaf stevia as lacking a bitter aftertaste because it contains only organic stevia leaf extract, natural flavors and purified water, while others may contain artificial ingredients or chemicals.
In addition to sugar and alternative sweeteners, sugar syrups such as agave nectar are likely to benefit from the "raw" movement, Mintel predicts. Even though the nutritional advantages remain unproven, consumers are apt to buy into the idea that these "natural" sweeteners are more healthful and of better quality than traditional white sugar.