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Cautious vs. Carefree: The Split Personality of Sugar-Conscious Consumers

Who’s paying attention to added sugar? The sweet substances added to some of our favorite foods and beverages to make them even more delectable? New research from The Center for Food Integrity shows two dominant consumer groups with little in common who are engaging online about added sugar. The research reveals distinct motivations, fears, attitudes and values of both the cautious and carefree.

The Carb Cautious

The first dominant segment is couples with children who focus on limiting added sugar as a means of promoting a healthy lifestyle for their families, according to the latest CFI Illuminate™ Digital Cultural Insights report. Consumers in this segment view sugary food and beverages as a special treat rather than a regular part of their family’s diet. They monitor their family’s consumption of sugar and teach their children that too much sugar is “bad for you.”

Motivations include being seen as a good and moral person, and competent provider who has life under control and values health and environmental stewardship.

They also believe large corporations producing high sugar foods are solely focused on profits and do not have society’s best interests at heart. They find the different names for “sugar” in product information confusing and inconsistent.

Pleasure Seekers

On the other side are couples without children who believe they have the right to eat anything they want without being judged for their choices. They actively seek pleasurable experiences, including any sugary food they desire without limitations.

This group sees itself as more practical and rational and fears living a life of regret.

They too believe large corporations only care about money and not consumers, but they also believe the government should protect people from corporate interests. In other words: If sugar is really that bad, wouldn’t the government ban or regulate it like tobacco?

Common Ground

While these groups appear to have little in common, both groups share a fear that added sugar may cause health problems. However, what separates them is the degree to which they are willing to take action to allay that fear.

The fear of failing to protect their families from avoidable illness propels the Carb Cautious to limit their family’s consumption of added sugar. The Pleasure Seekers value the right to enjoy sugary foods and beverages, so they’re more likely to live in the moment and less likely to take action.

A Growing Segment

According to the research, these two groups are part of the same core market of 44 million consumers who are actively engaged in online conversations against and for added sugar.

They represent the dominant demographics for this topic, with couples with children representing 23 percent of the conversations and couples without children representing 37 percent. This core of consumers discussing added sugar is predicted to increase by 4.3 percent to 46 million in the next 12 to 24 months.

Engaging Consumers

Whether the goal is to promote less sugar or the responsible use of sugar, the research provides important insights for the food industry into the minds of two key consumer groups with distinct attitudes and motivations.

Regardless, consumers today are leery of “big food.” Earning trust requires authentic transparency and credible information that’s delivered in an easily accessible and understandable way. Doing so provides consumers with the confidence to make decisions they feel good about. Any approach that adds to their confusion only erodes trust and causes frustration.

If you’re interested in learning more about this Illuminate report and others, I’d be happy to connect.

Terry Fleck
Executive Director, CFI
terry.fleck@foodintegrity.org