Stevia continues to sweeten up globally

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 20th May 2013

There has been a widespread rollout of products containing Stevia in recent times, with new products containing the natural sweetener increasing by 400 per cent globally between 2008 and 2012, and 158 per cent between 2011 and 2012, according to new research from global market research organisation Mintel.

Europe is experience “phenomenal growth” and is now a key market driver for Stevia, according to Mintel. It accounted for a quarter of global new product launches containing Stevia in 2012, up from just 4 per cent in 2011.

Meanwhile, Asia accounted for 50 per cent of all introductions in 2012, down from 63 per cent in 2011. North America accounted for 15 per cent of new product launches containing Stevia in 2012, down from 21 per cent in 2011, and Latin America accounted for 9 per cent in 2012, down from 11 per cent in 2011.

“Whilst countries such as France, Germany and Finland had allowed a limited number of Stevia products as early as 2009, 2012 was the first year that Stevia was allowed to be used in a wide range of food and drink categories in all EU markets and manufacturers have responded with a huge increase in new product launches,” said David Turner, Global Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel.

“The number of new products coming to market in Europe is up, and interest seems high, but in some categories companies have struggled to turn that into real commercial success,” Mr Turner said.

“However, that may be about to change. In the UK for example we are seeing strong sales for products that use Stevia in combination with sugar to provide great tasting, low calorie food and drink,” Mr Turner added.

Stevia growth

Mintel said recent growth had been fuelled by product innovation across a range of categories. Some of the most widespread use of Stevia is in the non-alcoholic beverages category, which Mintel said accounted for 31 per cent of the global products launched containing Stevia in 2012, and the snacks category, which accounted for 26 per cent. Meanwhile, 13 per cent of global product launches containing Stevia were table-top sweetener alternatives to sugar and 7 per cent were dairy products.

Increased concern over obesity levels could also present an opportunity for Stevia in low sugar and low calorie food and drinks. Mintel said it appears that sugar substitutes are still struggling against traditional sugar, especially when it comes to taste. In the US, more than half (57 per cent) of consumers believe that natural sweeteners such as sugar or honey taste better than low calorie alternatives, and 44 per cent agree that sweeteners leave an aftertaste or simply taste bad.

Sugar substitutes also appear to be limited to sweetening drinks such as tea or coffee, rather than wider use in baking, as 44 per cent of US consumers consider them too expensive to bake with and only 33 per cent believe they are easy to use in cooking.

Growth set to continue

There are also positive signs for the future of the sector, according to Mintel, and the opportunity to respond to “underlying consumer demand for simple, natural products”. Mintel’s research shows that 55 per cent of consumers in Germany, 47 per cent in the UK, 45 per cent in France, 26 per cent in Italy and 22 per cent in Spain would be willing to try products made using alternative sweeteners. Moreover, 56 per cent of consumers in the UK are interested in trying confectionary will natural sugar alternatives.

But Mintel suggested that blending Stevia and sugar might be more successful than just using the product on its own.

“Taste issues and also the fact that Stevia is much more expensive than artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose, suggest that rather than replacing sugar entirely with Stevia, it will be more effective to use a blend of sugar, Stevia and other additives – at least until consumers get more used to Stevia’s taste,” Mr Turner said. “Innovations that blend sugar with sweeteners offer a lower calorie sweetener suitable for cooking whilst claiming to have the same taste as sugar. Looking to 2013, if Europe can learn from the US, it should see continued steady growth in the Stevia market,” he said.

“To ensure market growth can be sustained over the long term, continued new product development is needed to improve taste and versatility combined with high levels of marketing support to drive consumer education and trial,” Mr Turner added.