Take a ride on the sugar train

Tesco have just reduced the amount of sugar in all their soft drinks. This brings them below the ‘sugar taxable’ level well ahead of the Sugar Tax even coming into force. But what difference will it make to consumers?

For many it will raise more questions than it answers: how have they achieved this massive sugar reduction (down 50% in some drinks)? What have they used instead and will that be any healthier or safer? Tesco themselves are being very coy on the subject, but from what we have learned about the whole vexed issue of sugar, not everyone will be happy.

Our own recent qualitative research into consumer attitudes to sugar revealed a paradox that consumers find hard to reconcile.

On one hand sugar brings us so much pleasure – it evokes the joy of childhood and is the sweetener of life in almost every culture.

On the other hand, it is a guilty pleasure, the root of the obesity crisis and an addiction the country can’t afford either personally or collectively.

As we know from our Food Revolution work, there is little middle ground between ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ eating and balance is hard to achieve.

Consequently, we’ve found that people adopt one of three strategies for managing their sugar consumption which will likely affect their response to the Tesco initiative:

1 / Controlling: The dominant claimed strategy, this means being sensible with the amount of sugar consumed. It’s all about No Added Sugar options and limiting sweet treats for the kids. But many are unaware of the quantity of sugar – in all its forms – in everyday foods.

2 / Avoiding: Only a very small number of people we spoke to have actively given up or severely restricted sugar consumption. These people are most likely to know the sugar content of foods in all its forms (“anything ending in –ose”) and feel cheated to find it in everything from bread to mayonnaise.

3 / Disengaging: Could also be called putting your head in the sand, but the people who adopt this approach really don’t feel they consume enough sugar for it to be a problem. They want to enjoy sweet things without interference or blame and are likely to favour ‘real’ sugar over artificial substitutes.

So where does that leave Tesco with its reduced sugar drinks, and other manufacturers who are looking to escape the sugar trap?

There are two options:

Help manage sugar by providing options that make it easier for people to reduce sugar content with smaller packs/servings, reduced ‘hidden’ sugars, reduced refined sugars, or offering light/No Added Sugar options. Tesco has probably deployed all of these tactics across their soft drink ranges.

Or alternatively, innovate to create new foods and drinks that are not sugar-based. Just because people need help with cutting down on sugar, doesn’t mean they are willing to sacrifice their favourite convenience foods and manufacturers need to be inventive to help shape a new palate.

Contact us

If you are interested in learning more about our research, contact Jennifer Jones. We are intending to complement this work with a quantitative study, so if you have a question you’d like us to answer, please get in touch.

Jennifer Jones; +44 (0)7500 984595; jennifer.jones@incite-global.com