Stevia market to break $100 million this year, but acceptance lags

Stevia is the industry's sweet news for 2009. According to a new report from Mintel, the stevia is poised to become the "holy grail" of sweeteners, and the market could exceed $2 billion by the end of 2011.* Even with the skyrocketing success, the portrait for stevia's success isn't completely rosy, however. Mintel's exclusive consumer survey reveals nearly 70% of Americans have never even heard of stevia.

Since December 2008, when the FDA approved use of rebaudioside A (an active ingredient of stevia) in US food and beverage, the stevia market has erupted. By mid-July 2009, stevia sales topped $95 million, a substantial increase over the $21 million achieved in all of 2008. "The FDA's approval of stevia in food and drink opened the door for this market's explosion," says David Browne, senior analyst at Mintel. "New product activity has accelerated in recent years, and since most categories with stevia applications remain untapped, we expect many more stevia-infused product introductions in the next few years."

In the first eight months of 2009, Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD) monitored the launch of more than 110 US food, drink and healthcare products made with stevia. Annual new product activity for stevia more than doubled between 2007-2008.

Productivity is up, sales are up, but consumer awareness hasn't kept up. More than six in 10 (62%) say they have no interest in trying stevia, and 11% say they think stevia is unsafe and they plan to avoid it.

"Step one is for manufacturers to get the word out. At this stage, heavy demo-ing of stevia products in stores, along with copious distribution of free samples, are just as important as promoting stevia's all-natural, zero-calorie positioning," comments David Browne.

Flavor remains another obstacle to stevia's growth. Companies are aggressively perfecting formulations and seeking better source material globally, but this means one stevia-based product won't taste the same as the next. "If someone tries a stevia-sweetened drink with an off-putting aftertaste, it's logical to assume that person will be a tough sell for stevia products in the future," says David Browne.

Mintel reports that 25% of people say they might be interested in stevia, but they haven't tried it yet. Just over one in 10 (11%) say they have tried stevia and plan to continue purchasing it.

*Includes FDM and natural supermarket sales of stevia, Truvia™ and PureVia™ as tabletop sweeteners or in foods, beverages and other products.

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