A year ago August, in a report on the natural-sweeteners market, Mintel predicted that the global stevia market would "rapidly increase in size in the next few years."
They sure got that right.
In what is undoubtedly one of the greatest success stories of the year, products with stevia as a main ingredient in the FDM channel climbed from $27.69 million to $70.79 million in US sales between August 2009 and August 2010, SPINS data reveal. That is a 155.65 percent increase. And it is a 734.78 percent increase over the $8.48 million in sales two years ago.
"Most of the growth is still coming from the table top sweeteners, though beverages sweetened with stevia are also showing considerable growth in the conventional channel," said Kerry Watson, manager of SPINS Product Library. "There is a lot of opportunity in all categories for stevia. This ingredient is posed for continued growth over the long run."
The US stevia market is still in its relative infancy. It was only in December 2008 that the Food and Drug Administration gave its approval for the use of Reb A as an all-purpose sweetener in foods and beverages.
Out of the 10 product categories examined by SPINS in the FDM channel, only one didn't see significant gains in the past year: herbal formulas with stevia. Those sales dipped nearly 20 percent, from $18,344 to $14,700. Such a dip pales in comparison, though, to gains in other product categories:
- Carbonated beverages rose 194 percent to $1.81 million. Crackers and crispbreads jumped 282 percent to $9,315; Tea with stevia gained 404 percent to $335,753 in total product sales. Water with stevia soared a whopping 1,158 percent — to $14.4 million. Sweeteners rose 126 percent to $50.24 million.
Gains like these have done nothing but boost the bottom lines of top ingredient suppliers, like Malaysia's PureCircle and Canada's GLG Life Tech Corp.
"With FDA approval, we've seen many product launches in the US, including those such as the vitamin waters, ice creams, gums, mints, teas, juices and more," said James Kempland, vice president of marketing, GLG Life Tech. "Our growth in sales has come from North America, South America and most recently Asia, where we see tremendous opportunity."
"The growth in the stevia industry has great momentum," said Jason Hecker, vice president global marketing, PureCircle. "We expect to see continued growth across new markets, new applications, with larger brand launches in the coming years."
A peek at natural channel-sales may yield some clues about where exactly this future growth will occur.
New product categories appearing for the first time in the channel included bread and baked goods ($19,377 in sales), crackers and crispbreads ($11,657), and self-stable juices ($2,844).
Seeing major growth were carbonated beverages, rising 133.71 percent to $4.16 million; and refrigerated juices and beverages, rising 72.84 percent to $145,520.
While not seeing major percentage changes, the categories of herbal singles and sweeteners were still major players in total dollar sales in the natural channel ($9.3 million and $2.55 million respectively).
You say stee-vee-ah, I say steh-vee-ah
Lost in the Reb A revolution is some basic nomenclature. Specifically, how exactly should the word "stevia" be pronounced?
More often than not, people are saying it with a long-e sound, like the name Steve.
But if you talk to the father of stevia, Jim May — who brought the sweet leaf to the American market back in 1982 — he'll tell you differently.
"It's pronounced steh-via," said May. "It's from Peter James EstÃ©ve, the Spanish botanist who died in 1556. And Dr Vito Rebaudi was the first to conduct a chemical analysis of stevia and its health benefits. And Moises Bertoni, who got the farmers growing it in 1900."
We know how old habits die hard. But just as the industry has helped consumers properly pronounce aÃ§ai (ah-sigh-ee), we can now lead the charge in the proper pronunciation of the next great natural sweetener.
Chart: Food Industry's Perpective
Chart: Stevia Sales - FDM and Natural Channels
Chart: Consumer Panel on Use of Foods/Drinks to Treat/Prevent