Here’s a question for you: What is good to eat? Which foods are the healthiest?
It’s a question you may face every day. What’s more, there are millions of answers on Google offering nutritious food choices for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and everything in between.
To cater to the intense interest in this question, businesses in the food and beverage industry are focusing heavily on the concept of “healthy food”. Coca-Cola has launched the first sugar-free flavored water under the brand ”I LOHAS” in Japan, with the firm striving to respond to the growing demand for better-for-you products.
Google Trends also shows a steady increase in this movement over the last 15 years.
Source: Google Trends
As people look for effective ways to stay healthy or lose weight, the no-sugar diet has gained popularity. Although not everyone is convinced that the low-sugar diet works, there are some common trends and concerns we can detect from analyzing online discussion.
Sugar and sugar reduction has been one of the most-discussed topics in the APAC food and beverage industry this year, and is set to continue as a trend into 2020, especially with more upcoming talk of sugar taxes in these regions.
So, how does this sugar-free concept fare on social media? What do social players care about, and how can brands participate when it comes to these trends?
In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the online discussion of sugar-free food, and look at how consumers are responding to it.
Let’s start with a look at some global trends.
Global trends: a reduced sugar rush
The World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10% of total daily energy intake should come from added sugars. In practice, this amounts to about 12 teaspoons of sugar.
“Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes,” says Dr. Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases.
Growing concerns about the impact of sugar on weight gain is putting pressure on governments to reduce our overall consumption of the sweet stuff. The Asia-Pacific region has some of the highest figures of obesity and diabetes in the world - that’s why the beverage industry in Australia has committed to a 20% reduction in sugar across the board by 2025.
Our recent Health and Wellness Trends Report examined over 210 million conversations about health from social media users in France, the United States, and China. This report found that the wellness topic is expected to continue to grow in popularity through to 2020 and beyond, including discussion concerning low-sugar diets and food products.
So, how else does social media impact the debate around sugar free products?
How social media impacts the sugar-free debate
We talked about the increasing popularity of veganism in a previous blog post examining how food trends and social movements grow online.
When we look at the rising interest in healthy eating and sugar-free foods on social media in APAC, we can see exactly who’s talking about these topics. To do this, we analyzed a range of data from the last 12 months with our social intelligence tool Linkfluence Search.
Source: Linkfluence Search
Interestingly, we found that most of these conversations take place on Instagram, which is likely due to the platform’s intensely visual focus. If you work for a food brand, you may never have a better data source concerning the tastes and preferences of your audience than tracking discussion on Instagram!
Now, let’s look closer at the age and gender of social media users discussing this topic:
Source: Linkfluence Search
From the chart above, it’s clear that the vast majority of online posts and interactions come from millenial women. In fact, most social media movements are led by millennials, simply because millennials are the most active community on social media, beating every other age range.
So, that’s a little about who’s talking about sugar-free food online. But how do these social media users feel about a tax on sugar?
Sugar tax: a polarizing issue
Despite sugar taxes attracting mostly positive exchanges, some users are passionately angry at the brands, governments and celebrity chefs who chose to promote sugar-free products.
For example, take a look at this post from the group Against Sugar Tax:
Source: Against Sugar Tax
By digging deeper into the data, we can see just how complex the issue really is. When we look at how brands are discussed in relation to the sugar tax hashtag, #Sugartax, our analysis shows more negative posts than positive posts.
It’s a sticky situation: while some people support the idea, others simply don’t want to pay the same price for smaller versions of food or drinks.
For example, take a look at the sentiment analysis:
Source: Linkfluence Search
For those social media users in support of a sugar tax, sugary drinks are viewed as non-essential luxuries. These users see the implementation of a sugar tax as an effective reminder for consumers to restrict their consumption of soft drinks. In turn, the tax collected on soft drinks could also be used to encourage people to purchase healthier products.
In fact, a study from Deakin University found that most young Australians would support a tax being slapped on sugary drinks, as long as the money was used to subsidize fruit and vegetables or exercise facilities.
Concerns about the social impact of a sugar tax
Other voices on social media label a sugar tax as inappropriate, because people in some communities are dependent very much on high-sugar products. Introducing a sugar tax could force these people to choose more high-calorie foods like chocolates, cakes, sweets, and other reasonably-priced foods, which may lead to an even higher risk of obesity.
Until this tension is resolved, a sugar tax may still be out of reach. Given the major consumers of high-sugar products are mostly low-income groups, the implementation of a sugar tax is likely to affect these groups to a far greater degree, and could create a new financial burden.
As this debate continues, we can expect more conflicting opinions will come to light. There are plenty of social tribes with a passionate interest in sugar-free products and introducing a tax on sugar, and social platforms offer a place for these debates.
Conclusion: brands should pay attention to consumer discussion on sugar-free products
People share their ideas, thoughts and feelings through digital channels very often, especially around food. After all, food and beverage choices are by far the most passionately debated area of millennial taste and preference.
For food and beverage businesses in Asia, the most important thing is to know how your target customers are reacting to your brand, and how you can motivate them to support your products.
Social media is changing the way brands promote new products in different markets. Now, new products become popular either because they are Instagrammable, or because they offer an innovative experience for consumers.
For example, French supermarket chain Intermarche is doing its part to help reduce France's sugar intake with an innovative packaging design.
Now, social media is full of conversions about wealth and wellness, and brands have been able to launch new products that cater to customers in this specific market.
If you’re interested in keeping up with these consumer trends, be sure to download our latest trends report on the state of wellness on the social web. Here, you’ll find great market insights on the opportunities for brands to align themselves with the focus on wellness.