Stevia well on its way to becoming 'mainstream' ingredient

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."

Stevia-sweetened product launches in the past 6 months

  • White Wave Foods introduced Silk Chocolate Light soy milk, with 90 calories per serving. Another product that came onto the market as a lower-calorie version of a higher-calorie favourite was Trop 50 orange-juice drinks. It recently added two new varieties: Pomegranate Blueberry and Pineapple Mango.
  • Zero-Calorie Sobe Lifewater has added two flavours: Strawberry Dragonfruit and Cherimoya Punch. Further PepsiCo launches include Aquafina Plus Vitamins 10 Cal in Canada, and the low-cal, hydrating beverage G2 in Mexico.
  • Group Danone's Bonafont's stevia-sweetened version of its Levite brand flavoured water was introduced into Latin America.
  • Frucor introduced New Zealand's first low-calorie, vitamin-enhanced beverage with stevia.
  • Nestle's Yoco Yogurt and Bliss Drinkable Yogurt were introduced in Malaysia. In New Zealand, Goodman Fielder's Meadow Fresh Lite Yoghurt was reformulated to replace the sucralose.
  • Shortly after France gave regulatory approval to Reb-A last September, Whole Earth Sweetener Co announced plans to introduce its tabletop sweetener PureVia there . PureVia was also recently launched into Mexico and Australia.
  • Breyers Yogurt Co launched a version of its 100-calorie YoCrunch line of yoghurt snacks sweetened with Cargill's branded stevia sweetener Truvia.

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