Keepin’ It Real

Consumers are looking for “real” food: introducing Real Sugar

Published online: Aug 06, 2020 Feature Courtney Gaine, President & CEO, The Sugar Association
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This column appears in the August/September 2020 issue of Sugar Producer.

Consumer research has taught us a lot lately, but the biggest trends among consumer interests are transparency and simplicity—consumers want to know and understand the ingredients in their food. While we all know that real sugar comes from sugarbeet and sugarcane plants grown on farms, most consumers do not. Only 33 percent of consumers know that sugar comes from plants, only 22 percent believe sugar is minimally processed, and fewer still (17 percent) understand that sugar is grown on a farm.

Real Sugar Comes from Plants

This past winter we launched the first phase of a campaign to connect consumers with the natural origin of real sugar. After we identified how to best communicate this message to consumers, we developed graphics and launched a digital marketing effort to educate our target audiences and drive them to our website to learn more. The first phase aimed to create and deploy a highly targeted digital advertising campaign in two pilot markets (Sacramento, Calif., and St. Louis) to showcase the positive impact of sharing the right message with the right people in the right way.

At the most basic level, the campaign was designed to show consumers sugarbeet and sugarcane plants to impress that sugar comes from plants. In our efforts to identify what messages work best to communicate this, we also confirmed that the term “Real Sugar” really resonates with consumers—“Real” means something. Using this term alongside the images and messages displayed in the graphics here proved successful in significantly increasing the number of people who agree that sugar comes from a plant and that sugar is real.

Real Sugar Is Grown on a Farm

We also included our farm-to-table messages in the campaign, reinforcing that sugar is grown on a farm and continuing our efforts to connect consumers with you—the people behind the product. Our advertisements reached audiences on social media and a targeted selection of influential blogs and websites. Post-campaign consumer research showed that seeing the ads and messages positively changed consumer views when it comes to how strongly they agree with statements like “Sugar is natural,” “I know where sugar comes from,” “I am familiar with how sugar is made,” and “I confidently believe that a balanced diet includes sugar.” Additionally, more people disagree with the statement “I feel guilty when I consume sugar” after seeing our messages.

Real Sugar Is Minimally Processed

With the simple message that sugar is “rooted in nature, not a lab,” we also highlighted sugar’s minimal processing even though answering the question of how sugar is processed was not the campaign’s primary focus. Looking at the online conversations in our target markets throughout the campaign, we saw an uptick in mentions of “real,” “natural” and “better” and a decrease in mentions of “processed,” demonstrating a greater affinity for and acceptance of sugar’s origin story.

Traffic to www.sugar.org increased by an impressive 150 percent during the first two months of the campaign. By early summer, the campaign had led over 230,000 visitors to our website to learn more. This success led us to launch the campaign’s second phase, which expanded the campaign to videos showing on over-the-top television channels like Amazon Prime and Hulu and devices like Roku, Apple TV and many smart TVs. This fall we will launch the third phase, which will include fresh, new graphics, and continue to increase the reach of our audience.

Consumers want to learn more about how real sugar gets from farm to table, the people who bring us real sugar and how the ingredient is refined and processed, and we are happy to be the ones to teach them.