In August 2021, Mondelez launched Oreo Zero in China, taking a cue from social media trends in China which showed reduced-sugar and sugar-free diets as a key trend. In addition, limited availability of zero-sugar biscuits in the country could also push Mondelez to launch Oreo Zero.
Chairman and CEO of Mondelez International Dirk Van de Put said, “The reaction of the consumer has been a little bit disappointing … for one reason or the other, the consumers feel it is not the real thing.”
Despite the growing health trend, it seems that Chinese consumers are not buying them.
Oreo Zero cookies contain maltitol instead of traditional sugars like sucrose and glucose, and the tweak gives a very slight difference in taste that only regular consumers of Oreos would be able to identify, according to the company.
The lukewarm consumer response underscores a challenge for global snack firms with a well-known brand and product. Mondelez varies the amount of sugar it includes in Oreos in different markets around the world. In China, Oreos have less sugar than do Oreos in the US, which could make for an easier transition to no-sugar cookies.
Chinese consumers, however, remain cautious about packaged foods’ no-sugar claims, said Michael Norris, research and strategy manager at Shanghai-based consultancy AgencyChina. For example, sugar-free drinks commanded only 1.25% of China’s soft drinks market in 2019, according to a June Dongxing Securities report, though Genki Forest’s sugar-free fizzy drinks and Suntory’s Oolong tea are gaining popularity.
Despite weak initial demand, Van de Put said Mondelez will continue to sell Oreo Zero in China, comparing it to Diet Coke, a sugar-free soda which he said also received muted consumer response at first, but has now become one of Coca-Cola’s top selling product globally. To gain consumer acceptance is a challenge and it cannot be achieved overnight.
Mondelez refused to disclose sales figures for the new Oreo product. Van de Put said, “Winning in India and China is absolutely critical as both countries have high rates of diabetes.”
He expects Mondelez’s business in Asia, the Middle East and Africa (AMEA) to overtake North America as its 2nd biggest market within 5 years. Presently AMEA region accounted for 22% of Mondelez’s US$26.5 billion total revenue in 2020, whereas North America and Europe accounted for 31% and 38% respectively.