WASHINGTON (Mintel)—Most consumers look to avoid total added sugars, not high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) specifically, according to a recent study designed and executed by Mintel Research Consultancy.
In the study, more than 2,000 consumers were asked a series of questions about their dietary habits. By asking participants unaided (or open-ended) questions, the survey helped determine what was “top of mind” for consumers with regard to sweeteners.
Specifically, the study found that 17 percent of consumers were trying to avoid “sugar or added sugar,” as opposed to only 4 percent who indicated that they were looking to avoid HFCS. In the same question, 37 percent of consumers indicated that they were avoiding calories, while 20 percent were avoiding fats and oils.
“This study of thousands of consumers truly shows what is ‘top of mind’ when reading food and beverage package labels. It’s very telling that only 4 percent of consumers are avoiding HFCS,” said David Lockwood, senior analyst, Mintel Research Consultancy. “Mintel identified a major gap between what people say and what they really do. The answers to these unaided responses are the best indicators of true attitudes and behaviors.”
Additionally, in reading package labels for information, a quarter of respondents indicated that they were looking for “sugar or added sugar.” By contrast, only 3 percent indicated that they were reading labels for HFCS. In the same question, 38 percent of consumers read labels for fats and oils, while 37 percent read for calories.
“Consumers are independently confirming that HFCS is not a top of mind issue. In fact, one in four consumers is not focused on ingredients at all,” said Audrae Erickson, president, Corn Refiners Association.
The Mintel consumer research underscores that many food and beverage marketers are overestimating consumer opposition to HFCS. According to a separate study conducted by Equation Research for AdweekMedia, 63 percent of food and beverage marketers indicated they were either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about consumer attitudes towards HFCS.
The Equation Research study found that more than half (54 percent) of food and beverage marketers believe that more than 10 percent of consumers have already changed their purchase habits to avoid HFCS. In addition, 64 percent of marketers indicated that more than 10 percent of consumers would need to change their purchasing habits before manufacturers would reformulate their products. Interestingly, some food and beverage companies have changed to HFCS-free formulations even while the actual level of consumer concern about HFCS is less than one-third of the 10% threshold identified by marketers.
Further, many food and beverage marketers did not understand the science of sweeteners; specifically, that HFCS and sugar are nutritionally, metabolically and calorically equivalent*. The Equation Research study found that:
- Only 48 percent of food and beverage marketers were aware that HFCS and sugar have the same nutritional value.
- Only 47 percent knew that HFCS and sugar have the same calorie count.
- Only 44 percent of marketers knew that HFCS metabolized the same as sugar.
About the Research
Mintel Research Consultancy provides syndicated research and custom research projects to more than 500 of the world’s largest companies. Surveying 2,005 household grocery shoppers, Mintel gathered a comprehensive overview of consumers’ attitudes and behaviors related to added sugars in packaged foods and beverages, including HFCS. Study respondents were randomly recruited to participate in the 30-question, 17-minute quantitative telephone survey. The study fielded results in April 2011.
Study respondents participating in the 15-minute quantitative online survey were recruited through invitations sent to Adweek subscribers. Participants were offered the chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card. The study fielded results from November 10, 2010, to December 1, 2010, and surveyed 126 marketing professionals.
* According to the American Dietetic Association: “High fructose corn syrup…is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose. Both sweeteners contain the same number of calories (4 per gram) and consist of about equal parts of fructose and glucose. Once absorbed into the blood stream, the two sweeteners are indistinguishable.” Source: Hot Topics, “High Fructose Corn Syrup.” December 2008.