Success Isn’t So Sweet Anymore

By Darren Seifer, Food & Beverage Industry Analyst, The NPD Group

It’s been a few decades since the U.S. nutritional guidelines on fats were established, advising consumers to avoid or limit their intake. When marketers responded with low-fat options, many of these products added sugars to improve the flavor profile that the fats once provided. More recently, however, it seems consumers are moving on from their concerns about fat and taking a closer look at their sugar intake.

Our Dieting Monitor asks adults the items they’re trying to cut down on or avoid completely in their diets. Fat has topped that list since the service was introduced. In 2014, for the first time, sugar narrowly edged out fats for the number-one spot on the list. This shift is largely from falling concerns for fats – 10 years ago, about 75 percent of adults wanted to avoid fat, but now that figure is about 64 percent.

We see evidence of this intention to avoid sugars in some of the categories growing and declining in Americans’ food consumption. While cold cereal remains the top item consumed at breakfast thanks to its convenient preparation and clean-up, eggs command greater share of breakfasts today versus a decade ago. While U.S. consumers are not quite consuming eggs at the same frequency as in the 1980s (when cholesterol was just starting to make its way into the vernacular) this increase at breakfast represents a shift away from simple carbohydrates and toward more protein-based items.

We’re also seeing a move away from sugars when we snack. Since 2006, there has been a slow but steady decline in sweet snack food consumption, which includes candy bars, donuts, and chocolate candy. At the same time, more consumers now reach for products such as protein bars, fresh fruit, and yogurt. And consumption of meat snacks among adults has increased by 18 percent over the past five years. We should expect this shift away from sweets to continue. Our Future of Eating report forecasts better-for-you snack foods will be consumed more often than sweet snack foods by 2018.

Of course sweet foods won’t entirely be a thing of the past, but it does seem consumers are reserving them for specific times and occasions rather than considering them every day options. Consumers are more likely to consume sweet snack foods toward the end of the day when they’re looking for a treat or a reward for themselves, such as after a long day at work. Marketers of sweetened foods or beverages should examine whether it makes sense to find ways to lower their products’ sugar content or communicate to consumers about being the perfect solution for when they are more open to consuming sweet products.


The NPD Group continuously monitors shifts in consumption patterns, arming the industry with input for fact-based decisions about where to focus their long-term strategies. To learn more about the topics discussed here, contact Darren Seifer at darren.seifer@npd.com.

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