When consumers drink beverages on-the-go, research has confirmed that sweeteners continue to play a major role in the experience. It’s clear that consumers prefer sweetened beverages—and they also enjoy the ability to customize their drinks to their individual tastes.
“Customization is everything when it comes to coffee and tea,” says Key Herron, brand manager for sweeteners at Smucker Away From Home. “Sweeteners play a critical role in how consumers create their perfect beverage experience. By providing a variety of options, like natural, calorie-free, and different sweetness levels, operators can ensure each customer has an overall enjoyable experience.”
Beverage customization in general is a major trend that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. “You’re seeing it with milk, such as oat milk, soy milk, cashew milk, just like you are with sweeteners,” Herron says. “Providing a range of options is essential for delivering that beverage experience. Vegan, keto, and other organic preferences are also notable examples of what is driving the category right now. And then you have classic preferences, based on tried-and-true sweetener levels and tastes, like your traditional Sweet’N Low®. I would say that customization and having the product types for everyone is key.”
Proprietary research from Smucker Away from Home, conducted in 2022, has found 71 percent of restaurant operators believe customers are looking for customized beverages to suit their exact specifications. Of course, operators must look to their core customers to guide them on their preferences. “It’s important that operators understand their target consumer and their base, and tailor their menus with options that meet their needs, including their diets and preferred foods and beverages,” Herron says. “This will also impact their sweetener preference. Sweeteners can often be viewed as a small throwaway item, but they are imperative to having that enhanced beverage experience.”
The same study found that restaurant guests’ preferences for brown sugar increased by 90 percent over the past year, and their preference for stevia increased by 86 percent. The demand for natural sweeteners is on the rise, aligning with consumers’ overall increasing interest in more natural foods and beverages.
“In recent years, we’ve seen a couple of things—first is a shift in the desire for more natural sweetener options like stevia and organic and raw sugar. But at the same time, there’ been a surge in diets that offer extremely limited sweetener options,” Herron says. “So, because of competing demands, it’s important to provide a wide variety of sweetener options that suit consumers’ unique needs.”
Consumers appreciate seeing brand names they recognize in a restaurants’ mix of sweetener choices. Seventy-five percent of restaurant operators believe their guests want to see the same brands of sweeteners they use at home. The study also found that restaurant operators charge 9.8 percent more on average for products served alongside premium branded sweeteners.
“Brands actually do matter—specifically within the front of the house—to deliver a message to the guests about their needs and preferences,” Herron says. “You want to make sure that the brands that they have at home are available in that experience away from home. So when they see those brands, they prefer, like In The Raw® or Sweet’N Low, they feel more comfortable knowing that their value and their preferences and their quality of brands are available when they’re having an experience outside of their home as well.”
To learn more about sweetener trends, visit the Smucker Away from Home website.