Sugar concerns continue to eat away at soft drink sales in Australia, according to Mintel, which is predicting further volume sales reductions in 2017.

The researcher is predicting a decline of 2.3 per cent in 2017, on top of the 4.7 per cent falls already seen between 2014 and 2016.

Mintel is pointing to negative consumer sentiment towards sugar, which it says has driven many Australians to rethink their sugar intake.

One in three (34%) of the Australian consumers polled said that they are limiting the amount of sugar/sugar substitutes in their diets.

No-sugar soft drink avoiders are also on the rise, according to Mintel, with 29 per cent avoiding products with sweeteners. However the researcher says there are still opportunities for new product development in this area, as well as for greater front-of-pack transparency on sugar and sweeteners.

According to Mintel, 58 per cent of Australians say they are limiting their consumption of sugar and sugar substitutes in an effort to to watch their weight, while over half (53%) do so because of future health concerns, such as developing diabetes.

“With concerns about obesity rates and overall health in Australia, many consumers are now focusing on sugar and sweetener content when choosing food and drink, with some limiting the amount of sugar or sweeteners in their diets,” Global Food & Drink Analyst at Mintel Jenny Zegler said.

“These concerns have especially taken a toll on Australia’s carbonated soft drinks category, which is forecast to see further sales declines by the end of 2017. Carbonated soft drink companies that seek to reconnect with consumers must take into account that concerns about sugar and sweeteners will continue to be a focal point for consumers moving forward.”

According Zegler, soft drink companies could do even more when it comes to new product development.

“Our research indicates that there is a definite opportunity for players in the carbonated soft drink industry to introduce more low, no or reduced sugar offerings into the Australian market. Another key way of enticing consumers to stay.”

Zegler also noted that the research showed more than three in five (64%) Australians say they feel cheated when a company is not clear about the high sugar content of its products, and as many as three in four (76%) agree that food and drink companies should make it easier to understand how much sugar is in their products.

The provision of front-of-pack sugar descriptions by carbonated soft drink companies are few and far between, according to Mintel, which challenges more companies to be transparent in their claims.