An intense focus on added sugars consumption and links to obesity, diabetes and heart disease is motivating consumers to not only reduce total sweetener consumption, but to switch to sweeteners perceived as more healthful, such as honey, according to market research firm Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. The current high level of consumer interest in honey makes it a great time to offer innovative products that piggyback on the latest and emerging trends for this sweetener, said David Sprinkle, the firm’s research director.

Keith Seiz, spokesperson for the National Honey Board, said honey is a timeless and relevant sweetener.

“Honey’s advantage as a sweetener is its marketability, its story that has always started with the honey bee,” he said. “Honey complements today’s clean label formulating trend. Marketers are bringing honey to the front of the package to clearly communicate to consumers its inclusion in a packaged food.”

The National Honey Board partnered with Chicago-based market research firm Technomic to better understand how honey is used in the United States. Using primary research, industry sources and U.S. Department of Agriculture data, Technomic estimated that of the 576 million lbs of honey sold in the United States in 2015, 40% was sold at retail as packaged honey. Food processors used 30% of the honey in prepared and packaged foods, while chefs and food service operators used 21%. The remaining 9% went into such industrial non-food applications as personal and beauty products, candles and medicine.

“We were surprised to learn that beverage was the leading food processing application, with packaged cold beverages being No. 1 followed by beer being No. 2,” Mr. Seiz said. “Cereal, both hot and ready-to-eat, came in third, followed by bread and doughs. Granola, snack and nutrition bars were fifth.”

To meet demand, the U.S. imports about two-thirds of the honey required, with the majority of suppliers based in Argentina, Brazil, India, Ukraine and Vietnam. The leading honey-producing U.S. states are California, Florida, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

“Across the country there’s a growing trend in urban beekeeping,” Mr. Seiz said. “Chefs who want to market the use of local ingredients are driving this growth. Local beekeepers also sell product at farmers’ markets.”

Mr. Seiz emphasized that honey is honey regardless of where the raw material is sourced.

“Honey is a pure product that does not allow for the addition of any other substance,” he said. “Codex Alimentarius is very explicit and states ‘honey sold as such shall not have added to it any food ingredient, including food additives, nor shall any other additions be made other than honey.’”

This is not to say that all honey is created equal. Honey varies in color, flavor and even consistency, based on the flowers worker bees extract nectar that eventually becomes honey. The colors of honey form a continuous range from water white to dark amber. Light-colored honey typically has a mild flavor, while a darker color is more intense.

There are three types of honey, with liquid honey being the most common. It is extracted from the honeycomb by centrifugal force, gravity or straining and is typically free of visible crystals.

Read more of this story at Food Business News.