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Thea Bourianne

By: Thea Bourianne on August 11th, 2017

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Coca-Cola Zero Sugar Shines Spotlight on Sugar Concerns

Company Viewpoint  |  Trends & Research

Confusion and Concern about Sugar

Ingredients matter today more than ever. According to Label Insight’s Shopper Trends study, 98% of shoppers think it’s important to consider the ingredients in the food products they purchase.


One ingredient consumers are keeping a closer eye on these days is sugar. Our research shows that 75% of consumers avoid specific ingredients when shopping for food products, and high-fructose corn syrup topped the list of ingredients consumers are avoiding by a wide margin (followed by artificial sweeteners).

Consumers’ confusion and concern about sugar has been widely covered, and with good reason.

Data from Nielsen and Label Insight shows that there are 206 variations of high fructose corn syrup that manufacturers can list on a label, many of which consumers may not associate as an added sugar.

This confusion is causing concern. In recognition of the confusion consumers experience when shopping and the challenges they face when trying to make healthy choices in the aisle, the U.S. Government has introduced changes to nutritional labels with the goal of creating greater transparency. 

Redefining the Way We Look at Added Sugars

The US FDA’s new label reform will now require products to list the amount of added sugar on the nutrition facts panel. The FDA defines added sugar as sugars added to products during the manufacturing process. It’s important to keep in mind that ‘natural’ sugars are not exempt. For example, maple syrup, honey, and molasses are examples of ingredients that must be counted towards added sugars. The one key exception from this definition is 100% juice -- which brings along beneficial nutrients that shouldn’t be discouraged.

added sugar.pngImage: FDA example nutrition facts panel

There are many categories across the grocery aisles that will be affected as consumers continue to pay closer attention to the added sugars in their shopping cart. According to Nielsen Product Insider, “the yogurt category is a $7.6 billion category and 86% of items contain added sugar ingredients. Sales across the yogurt category have declined 0.9% (for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 31, 2016), which translates to more than $68 million in lost sales.

------Think you know your way around added sugar ingredients? Quiz yourself. ------

The FDA’s expectation is that labeling added sugars will help increase consumer awareness of the quantity of added sugars in foods and help consumers limit their intake of added sugar to contribute no more than 10% of their total calories. Products with most, or all, of their calories coming from added sugar may feel the impact of this regulation the most and Coca-Cola’s new Coke Zero Sugar shows that CPG brands are taking this seriously.

Coke Zero vs. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar

Coca-Cola will replace Coke Zero in the United States with a new product, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, after encouraging foreign sales of the new recipe. While Coke Zero is already free from added sugars, that wasn’t clear to many consumers most likely due to the sugary-sweetness that Coke is known for.

On Coke’s website they state, “Like Coke Zero, Coke Zero Sugar is sweetened with aspartame and acesulfame K.” These two sweeteners are both calorie-, and added sugar-free. Regardless of the update to the new nutrition facts panel, both products would have zero grams of added sugar.

So why the change for Coca-Cola?

Coke’s CEO James Quincey has acknowledged that there has been confusion about the differences between their low calorie products, “It may surprise you to learn, but it’s true that consumers have not always been clear that either Diet Cokes or Coke Zeroes are absolutely zero sugar. That’s just a fact of consumer research.”

This change will help to clarify and provide more information to the consumers who are concerned about their sugar intake, but confused about how to do so. The rebrand will help to make it clear that there is a no sugar or no calories in this product. 

What’s the Impact of This change?

We know that ingredients matter to consumers, but when consumers are confused about ingredients, there are  negative implications for brands. From Label Insight’s Ingredient Confusion Study:

  • Consumers don’t trust brands when they’re confused about a product’s ingredients - 60% of those we surveyed say they trust the brand less when they see ingredients they don’t recognize or find confusing. (tweet this)

  • Consumers switch to products they understand - 64% of consumers would switch to another food product if they understand the ingredients in that product. (tweet this)

  • Understanding a product’s ingredients makes that product more appealing to consumers - 81% say they are more likely to buy food products that contain ingredients they understand or recognize. (tweet this)

The days of purchasing food solely for taste and convenience is gone. When it comes to the products we put in our bodies, consumers want to understand what goes into their food and where it comes from. When they can’t find this information, trust is damaged and they look elsewhere. On the flip side, brands that go above and beyond to provide detailed ingredient information - stand to win.

Learn more about Ingredient Confusion and what you can do to help consumers navigate your products.

download the ingredient confusion study

About Thea Bourianne

Thea Bourianne, MBA, RD, LDN is a licensed and registered dietitian based in Chicago. Specializing in nutrition, US and international food regulation, and food composition makes her uniquely positioned to work strategically with global CPG and retail clients to build data-driven, customer-centric solutions. In her current role at Label Insight, a SaaS company that provides insights on food label data, Bourianne supports retailers, CPG brands, US government, technology companies, researchers, and other entities by crafting and applying high order attribution to products in-store and online. Bourianne is passionate about safe, transparent, sustainable, wholesome products and strides for best-in-class customer experiences to make the healthy choice the easy choice. Prior to working at Label Insight, Bourianne’s previous positions have included product development, commercialization, fresh and frozen food manufacturing, and regulatory affairs with companies and clients such as Taco Bell Corp., Wilton Brands, Starbucks, Ahold, Walgreens and 7-Eleven, among others.