Understanding Consumers’ Attitudes and Sensory Acceptance of Alternative Sweeteners Across Hedonic and Functional Dairy Products

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Decreasing daily intake of calories and added sugars plays an important role in reducing risks for health complications like type II diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Alternative sweeteners are a way to help reduce the amount of calories and added sugar in diets, while maintaining consumers’ desired sweetness level. However, alternative sweeteners often come with a stigma around their health effects, and can sometimes have an undesirable effect on the sensory characteristics of a product. The goal of this project was to understand consumers’ acceptance of alternative sweeteners in products varying “function” from primarily utilitarian to primarily hedonic, such as protein beverages, yogurt, and ice cream, respectively. High-function products, like a protein drink, serve a specific, beneficial purpose to the consumer; primarily hedonic products, such as ice cream, are almost entirely for the enjoyment of the consumer. A product such as yogurt is a hybrid of these two categories, purchased for both its function and sensory properties. Conjoint analysis was used in order to understand consumers’ attitudes to sweeteners across these products, varying package information (including sweetener type, calories, and added grams of sugar), flavor, price, and aftertaste revealing that, generally, aftertaste and package information are the most important qualities to consumers when deciding on a product. Overall, consumers are willing to pay more for products lower in total calories and added sugar, but would pay less for products with an aftertaste even if it could be deemed as pleasant. Amongst all of the alternative sweeteners, stevia and allulose stood out as favorites in the survey. Three sequential consumer sensory tests were carried out to gain an understanding of consumers acceptance for sweeteners. These results were used to understand consumers’ acceptance of alternative sweeteners across different categories of food products when sucrose was replaced by seemingly healthier options. Results indicate that in predominantly utilitarian products, the variation in sweetener had less of an impact on overall liking and preference than the variation did on ice cream, a predominantly hedonic product. Consumers tend to place more importance on hedonic characteristics, and have a less emotional response when in response to functional products. In this manner, consumers were more accepting of the negative attributes associated with alternative sweeteners in protein shake samples than they were in ice cream samples.

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Dando, Robin

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