Global demand for naturally processed and organic sweeteners has grown since 2012-2014 due to campaigns in the U.S. and globally over rising sugar consumption and levels of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup in soft drinks and processed foods generally, and its link to obesity and diabetes. Consumers demand healthier foods to assist them to avoid chronic illnesses.

While sales of artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame and ‘natural’ stevia leaf sweeteners to manufacturers are still growing, mainly due to their use by soft drink and beverage bottlers, some challenges remain for stevia due to its taste and because of class action lawsuits and court rulings in the last few years suggesting that some stevia brands were deceptively marketed as natural or not naturally made.

Over the last 2-3 years, certified organic sweetener producers and suppliers from Europe, North and South America, and Australia have reported strong sales increases for sweeteners based on cane sugar, fruit, grains, coconut sugar, agave and honey.

Packaged Facts said in its Sugar, Sugar Substitute and Sweetener Trends in the U.S. in 2014 that an intense focus on added sugars consumption and links to obesity, diabetes and heart disease is motivating consumers to both reduce total consumption and switch to sweeteners perceived as more healthful, including less refined sugars, honey, and coconut sugar.

“Less refined, niche sugars and sweeteners are expected to grow at the expense of commodity sugar, especially white granulated. Economic and environmental sustainability factors are increasingly important to consumer choices about sweeteners, and avoidance of genetically modified foods will likely drive sweetener selection for a growing number of consumers,” Packaged Facts said.

However, U.S. chocolate products maker The Hershey Co recently revealed that is looking at replacing the high-fructose corn syrup in some of its products with sugar, and while the company uses a mix of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, it is “moving more toward sugar” due to consumer preference.

In a November 2014 strategy briefing by researcher Euromonitor, ‘The Backlash Against Sugar: The Facts, it said that sugar has endured a tide of negative public opinion as more scientific research is linking the rise in sugar intake with obesity.

“Governments are becoming increasingly concerned about the rising cost of illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and cancer, which have risen alongside weight gain. As fat is receding as the main culprit, recent media coverage and public discussion are now laying the blame for the growth of obesity and other health risks principally on sugary foods and drinks,” Euromonitor said.

“Sugar is now seen as a health risk by most, and as toxic as tobacco by some. This is leading to the introduction of a raft of voluntary and legal measures to help control intake. The new attitude is driving changes in consumption trends, including a conscious effort by consumers to either reduce their intake of sweet foods and drinks, or eschew sugar completely.”

Manufacturers are being forced to tackle the problem in various ways, including gradually reducing the content of their products, using alternative types of sweetener, or downsizing portions, Euromonitor added.