Artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet, Splenda, Equal and Sweet’N Low represent a vigorous $1 billion industry; however, attitudes toward these sugar substitutes among thousands of the most nutrition-conscious consumers are negative.
According to BuzzMetrics, the leader in word-of-mouth research and planning, 45 percent of all artificial-sweetener discussions among over 200,000 closely watched trend-setting consumers in online health and nutrition forums were negative in the fourth quarter of 2004. Specifically, 14 percent of discussions recommended using natural sweeteners instead; 13 percent warned of side effects; 11 percent advocated for limited intake; and seven percent complained of unpleasant taste.
Conversely, 42 percent of artificial-sweetener discussions were in favor of them in some way. Specifically, 19 percent discussed regular usage; 17 percent advocated their use in cooking; and six percent recommended them over natural sweeteners.
“There absolutely is a sizable and influential grassroots constituency that is actively voicing dissatisfaction with artificial sweeteners and aggressively advocating against them,” said Jonathan Carson, president and CEO, BuzzMetrics. “Marketers of artificial sweeteners and foods that incorporate them should pay close attention to these passionate nutrition enthusiasts. They have a proven history of virally disseminating their opinions, seeding grassroots trends and influencing widespread perceptions and consumption of food brands and ingredients.”
Market Leader Splenda Under Growing Scrutiny
Splenda, the wildly popular no-calorie sweeter made from sucralose and under legal assault by the Sugar Association (www.truthaboutsplenda.com), is believed to claim half of all market share for the artificial-sweetener category. While Spenda has historically attracted positive sentiment from online nutrition enthusiasts, the situation is changing.
Negative sentiment for Splenda increased from 27 to 33 percent between the third and fourth quarters of 2004 among the thousands of participants in the 90 health-and-nutrition forums BuzzMetrics is tracking. At the same time, positive sentiment dropped from 40 percent to 34 percent of all messages, and mixed sentiment increased from 21 to 25 percent. The rise in negative and mixed sentiment has been driven by complaints of side effects, including gastrointestinal, headaches and sugar cravings. There is also concern over the sweetener’s status as “chemically engineered.”
“Splenda’s remarkable rise in popularity and sales was driven largely by grassroots support of consumer influencers who are heavily involved in nutrition issues,” said Carson. “But that same consumer-driven force may now be turning against the product. Coupled with the high-profile legal battles the brand is facing, Splenda could face significant adversity in the coming quarters.”
NutritionBuzz Influencer Panel
These findings are from the latest NutritionBuzz TrendSpot Report, based on BuzzMetrics’ pioneering Influencer Panel research methodology which tracks the thousands of individuals who most effectively spread buzz and start trends among millions of consumers online. Through its proprietary Discussion Miner technology, BuzzMetrics identifies the most influential consumers, segments them into Influencer Panels, and measures the impact of their public commentary in the marketplace. The technology retrieves hundreds of millions of verbatim discussions from blogs, chat rooms, listserves and product feedback sites, among other channels. BuzzMetrics Influencer Panels enable marketers to identify how the most engaged consumers are talking, and what issues will influence them in the future — usually by several months. The Influencer Panels reveal potential threats and helps companies prepare for impending crises.
BuzzMetrics, the leader in word of mouth research and planning, and co-founder of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), helps Fortune 1000 companies strategically leverage the buzz surrounding their businesses. BuzzMetrics’ client list includes 14 of the top 15 pharmaceutical companies, as well as global leaders in virtually every industry — companies like General Motors, Comcast, Mazda, Jetblue and Hewlett-Packard. Founded in 1999, BuzzMetrics spent two years of intense research and development creating its proprietary Discussion Miner software, followed by two more years of limited client services and pilot work to create a pitch-perfect set of skills and services. Since its full launch in 2003, BuzzMetrics has been redefining what is possible with word of mouth. For more information, please visit www.buzzmetrics.com.