Sugar-free confectionery category slow to realise stevia’s potential

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 13th April 2015
Sugar-free confectionery category slow to realise stevia’s potential
Sugar-free confectionery category slow to realise stevia’s potential

With ongoing concerns about health and the reduction of sugar in the diet, the sugar-free confectionery market should be booming, particularly in the face of ongoing technical developments that have improved sensory properties, and the appearance of new sweeteners and other ingredients with a more natural image.

However, sugar-free lines accounted for less than 7 per cent of global confectionery launches recorded by market research organisation Innova Market Insights in 2014, which is a similar penetration level to that in 2013.

Confectionery opportunities with stevia

In combining calorie, particularly sugar, reduction with naturalness, the spreading regulatory approval for stevia sweeteners in markets such as the US, Australia and then the EU over the past five years or so has caused something of a revolution in sweetener use across a range of food and drinks markets. However, Innova Market Insights found this has had only limited effect in confectionery to date.

Just over 1 per cent of confectionery launches in 2014 featured stevia as an ingredient, which was a similar level to that in food and drinks as a whole, but behind the levels of use in soft drinks and tabletop sweeteners, for example.

Australian Food News notes that recent announcement by global beverage giant The Coca-Cola Company of its Coke Life product, which is sweetened with stevia, makes it likely that stevia will take off in a big way. Although The Coca-Cola Company is primarily a beverage company, the use of stevia by such a large brand, if it continues to prove successful, will likely have a flow-on effect into other sweetened food products.

The Coca-Cola Company is in a strong position to market its own stevia as the solution to the many technological hurdles facing confectionery makers identified in the Innova Market Insights report. The Coca-Cola Company spent seven years refining their own stevia sweetener.

Rate of stevia use in different categories

There are significant differences between product types, however, with sugar-free launches representing just 1 per cent of chocolate confectionery introductions, rising to 7.5 per cent in sugar confectionery and to over 63 per cent in chewing gum.

Even within the very diverse sugar confectionery market, penetration varies by type of product, with sugar-free launches focused particularly in the hard candy market, where they accounted for nearly one-fifth of introductions.

Formulation problems in confectionery

Formulation problems and the bitter after-taste of stevia are felt to have held back product activity in some instances, according to Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights.

However, some sectors have found this less of an issue —  particularly liquorice sweets and medicated confectionery. Ms Williams said improved formulations are now being introduced to allow more products in other areas.

US market leading sugar-free confectionery development

The US is leading activity levels in sugar-free confectionery with sugar-free lines accounting for 11 per cent of total confectionery launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2014. Uptake of stevia is also more advanced, featuring in 2.6 per cent of introductions, which although still relatively modest, is twice the global average.

A review of new product activity over the past few months reveals a wide range of introductions in the US featuring stevia, including additions to the Coco Polo and Chocorite chocolate bar ranges, SteviDent’s Stevita chewing gum, Ricola Liquorice Pearls, Rap Protein Gummis and Sencha Naturals Green Tea Mints.

European confectionery with stevia

A major step forward in Europe in 2014 was the introduction of the first European confectionery lines from chewing gum market leader Wrigley to feature stevia, with its introduction of Extra Professional Mints in Forest Fruits and Classic Mint variants. Initially launched in Germany, the mints are slated for launch in 20 European markets.

Wrigley has used stevia in chewing gum in Japan, where it has been permitted for many years, but this marked its first multi-country introduction of a stevia-sweetened product.

Fears over the health impact of sugar consumption and concerns over the safety of some artificial sweeteners should give a major boost to plant-based ‘natural’ sweeteners, and the development of new sweetener systems is already offering solutions to improving taste profiles. The confectionery industry has been perhaps slower to take on stevia sweeteners than originally forecast, according to Ms Williams, and it remained to be seen how take-up will develop over the next few years.