How sweet do you want it?

Would you like a sugar in your tea? Or maybe a sweetener instead? Perhaps you have chosen to cut out refined sugar from your diet altogether and only use natural sweeteners like honey or date syrup. 

There has long been a debate among consumers about sugar. How much sugar is healthy? What kinds of sugars taste the best? Which sugars are healthiest? 

We addressed these questions in the study summarised below from the perspective of the consumer, to understand their experiences and opinions surrounding the topic of all things sweet.


University of Reading, supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union. 


To understand the consumers’ perspective on sugar consumption and sugar alternatives. 

Our approach:

A qualitative study took place in the Citizen Participation Forum with 56 participants across 17 different countries in Europe. The participants were recruited through a professional panel. Participants completed a range of activities, including a questionnaire and took part in multiple interactive discussions. 

Findings in a nutshell:

The majority of the participants indicated that they feel like they consume too much sugar. Over half of the participants were (or actively are) trying to reduce their sugar intake for their health, but also admit that they find sugar difficult to avoid.

Participants perceived ‘refined’ sugar as a bad type of sugar and ‘natural’ sugars present in fruit or other ‘natural’ ingredients as good. So, when participants were asked how they reduce their sugar intake, most of them indicated that they try to avoid refined sugar and replace it with natural sugars like honey, date syrup, or fruits. 

Even though artificial sweeteners aim to help consumers reduce refined sugar intake, participants preferred to sacrifice sweet taste over having to use an artificial ingredient. The majority had a negative perception of any form of ‘artificial’ sugar or sweetener, with many  equating ‘artificial’ with unhealthy. Participants also perceived any product with artificial sweeteners as a marketing claim, rather than a health benefit.

From the perspective of the consumer, sugar reduction cannot be achieved via the promotion of sweeteners that consumers perceive as artificial. Instead, consumers would benefit most from food products with reduced refined sugar, as they are willing to sacrifice sweet taste for the reduced health consequences. 

Find out more:

Contact us to find out more about the results, or how we can tailor consumer insights to your product or company. 

We believe that understanding consumers is key to making the food system more sustainable. Successful innovation and impactful communication require a solid foundation of consumer insight. 

We are the insights partner of choice for food companies and non-profits  that aim to have a positive impact on society and our planet. Together we empower consumers to make food choices that are good for them as well as for the planet.

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