Consumers still want sugar in the evening
Sugar in the mornin’
Sugar in the evenin’
Sugar at suppertime
Be my little sugar
And love me all the time
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Those lyrics worked as a double entendre for the McGuire Sisters in 1958, but today’s consumer and lover might recoil at the idea of sugar in the morning, according to the analysis provided by a prominent consumer analyst at the recent International Sweetener Colloquium here.
The evening is sugar’s “sweet spot,” said Darren Seifer, an analyst with the NPD Group, a Chicago-based firm that analyses what people are eating in 20 countries by asking them to keep track of what they eat for a week at a time, rather than analyzing product trends at the point of sale.
At breakfast people want foods low in sugar, but as the day goes on the effort to stay away from sugar dissipates, Seifer said. In the evening “we allow ourselves to have sweet indulgences,” he added.
Overall sweetener consumption is still going down, which doesn’t seem to “bode well for this industry,” but products consumed in the evening offer new marketing opportunities, Seifer told the executives from candy companies and other sweetener users.
“We love sweetened items. Now we realize we should have them at certain times, not other times. We are not treating them like devil’s food,” he added.
Consumers don’t think of these evening snacks eaten after 8 p.m. as “pure indulgence” but as “permissible indulge,” he said.
Almost 85% of American households have white sugar in their cabinets at any one time, 74% have brown sugar, and 61% confectioner’s sugar, Seifer said.
Of alternative sweeteners, 71% have honey while 11% have agave, though youthful consumers are more likely to have agave, he added.
But consumers are increasingly interested in packaged items that mix nuts with sugar-containing items. When consumers eat a package of mixed nuts with dark chocolate in it, he said, then the food is “not a sweet or bad for you food. Indulgence is now about balance and enjoyment,” he said.
Nuts mixed with chocolate is part of a consumer trend of adding healthy items to a diet rather than taking certain foods away. Adding protein powder to popcorn is another of these trends, he said.
“The permission to enjoy” evolves out of consumers’ concern with wellness, which has replaced dieting, he said. There is a wellness-driven acknowledgment that “we have to have a balance somewhere,” he said.
“Sweet snacks shine in the evening,” he said, noting that eating snacks such as ice cream is part of a trend of eating at home rather than in restaurants.
Seifer said that while restaurant receipts continue to rise due to higher prices, the number of restaurant visits has been going down for years. The major reason behind this trend is the aging of the American population. People’s visits to restaurants peak in their 20s when they are dating and go down after that. But the millennials’ spending in restaurants has been lower because they were hit by the Great Recession in 2008 to 2009, just when they were at the peak age for going to restaurants.
“The structural changes in the society are not boding well for food service,” Seifer said, adding that he expects restaurant usage to “stay flat” or just keep up with the growth rate in the population.
He said 80% of meals are sourced from the home, while 20% are purchased away from home. The cost of a meal at home is $3.50 per person, while it is $7 or more in a restaurant.
That doesn’t mean people are cooking from scratch, however.
“The strictly convenience-oriented consumer is gaining strength and is now approaching 10%,” he said.
“Millennials were more willing to do work in the kitchen but the next cohort, Generation Z, is even less willing to cook,” he said. (There is no official categorization for millennials or Generation Z, but there is something of a consensus that millennials were born between 1981 and 1996 and that Generation Z birth years begin in the mid 1990s and end in 2012.)
Seifer also made a number of other points about current consumption:
▪ Although there has been a lot of stress on eating unprocessed foods, “convenience is making its way back in home occasions.”
▪ People are eating sandwiches and drinking coffee at home and, despite concerns about the high calories in pizza it’s still popular because it’s convenient.
▪ Frozen meals and entrees “are the fastest growing category at dinner” because there has been so much innovation in that area, particularly by organic food companies.
▪ People “want to try something new. This is where innovation drove consumption changes.”
▪ People are consuming fewer carbonated beverage and bread and much less fruit juice and lemonade than in the past and “many sweetened categories have started to fall down on the list.”
▪ Even though people have been told to eat more vegetables, vegetable and legume sales are down 1.1%.
▪ About 24% of Americans still eat cold cereal for breakfast, but that figure used to be 35%.
▪ More snacks are being eaten in the morning at the expense of other sections of the day and the fact that people are eating the snacks in the morning means they want something “nutritious.”
▪ Sugar has surpassed calories and fat for the top spot for which Americans check nutrition labels. About 64% of people frequently check nutrition labels for what they are trying to avoid, and 48% check for sugar.
▪ “Three quarters of teens and adults are trying to eat less sugar or avoid it completely.”
▪ Only 1 to 2% of Americans have gluten sensitivity but 30% try to avoid it, he said.
▪ More than 50% of consumers are trying to avoid sugars, sodium and high-fructose corn syrup.
▪ Most grocery shoppers consider “clean eating synonymous with healthy eating.”
▪ Americans continue to be focused on protein and people are eating eggs and egg dishes because they are no longer afraid of cholesterol. Getting more protein in their diet is a concern for 16%.
▪ Income is not the best way way to divide up consumption among economic groups, but people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children buy more shelf-stable items such as cold cereal because they last longer than, for example, eggs.
The No. 1 motivator in food purchases is still taste, Seifer said.
“It could cure cancer, but if it doesn’t taste great people won’t adopt it.”
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