It's been a little more than a year since Reb-A attained GRAS status in the US for use in food and beverages. Since then, leading Reb-A supplier PureCircle USA of Illinois has seen the ingredient move from the beverage and tabletop sweetener categories into a broad array of food products.
"Stevia is on its way to becoming a mainstream ingredient," said Jason Hecker, director of marketing at PureCircle. "This shift will be accelerated by its inclusion in mainstream products. Being a key ingredient in the best-known brands will lead to stevia becoming an integral aspect of consumers' purchasing habits."
In fact, such an evolution is already under way, Hecker said.
Some of the first products to be sweetened with stevia have been very successful, including Trop 50, which is on pace to be a $100 million brand. Sobe Lifewater 0 has increased sales for its entire line by nearly 100 per cent since last year. "Major manufacturers have noticed these successes and, as a result, we expect the pace of innovation in 2010 to continue to accelerate," Hecker said.
Asia remains the largest consumer of stevia — in Japan, stevia accounts for 40 per cent of the high-intensity sweetener market. But that, too, is changing. In the past year, half of all stevia product launches occurred outside of Japan, with the US representing nearly a quarter.
"Other countries are ramping up as well," Hecker said. "The US has led the recent growth in stevia consumption, and many other countries, including Canada, Mexico, Argentina, France, Australia, and New Zealand, have increased consumption, since recent regulatory changes have occurred."
In the Americas, the focus on obesity coupled with growing consumer interest in natural products makes the US market a high priority for the growth of stevia-sweetened products. But Mexico is also a growing market, as witnessed by the recent launches there of Gatorade G2, PureVia table top and Danone's Levite brand.
Proprietary research recently conducted by PureCircle indicates that nearly half of all women in the US are aware of stevia. "This is a significant increase from eight months ago when we conducted our initial study," Hecker said. "We've seen clearly that acceptance has been not only as a zero-calorie solution, but also as a wonderful way to reduce calories in the 'full-calorie' products consumers love."