New product launches with stevia blends rise 918%

The zero-calorie, all-natural sweetener stevia, and its primary commercial glycoside, Reb-A, has officially taken off. While most of the finished products pair stevia with other sweeteners, product launches containing some amount of stevia or Reb-A have risen by 10 times over the last year.

Two years after a little plant called stevia received regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration, product manufacturers have launched a wide range of new products containing the all-natural, high-intensity sweetener.

Most of these products pair stevia with other sweeteners.

Launches of new food and beverages sweetened with stevia and at least one other alternative sweetener rose 918 percent in the 52 weeks ending April 16, according to SPINSscan. This included sales in both the natural and conventional channels, where total sales rose from $10.46 million to $106.48 million in the one-year period.

By comparison, new product launches containing stevia alone rose 79 percent over that period, from $53.52 million to $95.81 million, according to SPINScan data.

Given the positive reception stevia is finding in the United States, the plant's outlook is promising in Europe, where the sweetener is not yet widely used.

Europe stevia situation

In April 2010, the European Food Safety Authority published a scientific opinion that steviol glycosides are safe for use in foods and beverages. In January 2011, EFSA published a second opinion. But full approval is still pending with the larger European Commission.

"European approval of steviol glycoside as an additive for food uses is likely to happen by the end of 2011," said Maria Teresa Scardigli, executive director of theInternational Stevia Council, based in Belgium.

Once approval happens in Europe, sales are expected to skyrocket. Regionwide approval is "widely anticipated for later this year,"agreed Anya Hembrough, senior market analyst for Zenith International, which recently completed a market research report on the sweetener. "With (Europe's) greater leaning toward natural products, some feel that this market could outstrip its North American counterpart in the future.”

European approval is expected to trigger "approval across Africa and the Middle East, and global approval is widely expected by the end of 2012," Hembrough said.

Cargill, supplier of the Truvia brand stevia ingredient, concurs that stevia interest is both strong and promising. Truvia is found in more than 20 beverage brands on the market.

"Demand for Truvia-sweetened beverages has been strong and continues to grow since the first innovation with the introduction of vitaminwater 10 and then vitaminwater zero," said Ralf Loeffelholz, commercial manager for Truvia rebiana, Cargill Heath & Nutrition. "It has been estimated by the Natural Marketing Institute that natural foods and beverage sales are expected to grow by an average of 6 percent over each of the next five years. Many beverage companies are currently either in development or commercializing new beverages that deliver what consumers have been asking for – great tasting, natural, zero-calorie beverages."

Stevia business developments

By the looks of it, other stevia suppliers are also gearing up for a massive expansion of their market. In March, several major business developments were announced:

  • Stevia-ingredient manufacturer Blue California began large-capacity production of its naturally fermented Good Sweet Reb-A 99% sweetener. The new fermentation process promises to provide a steady, uninterrupted supply at competitive prices.
  • Nordzucker and PureCircle created a joint venture company called NP Sweet A/S to handle sales of stevia and stevia-sucrose ingredients in Europe. Stevia sweeteners are being positioned as a complement to sucrose, replacing 10-20% of the sugar in products.
  • A new joint venture was announced between a French sugar producer, a flavor firm, and an ingredients supplier, to offer food manufacturers ‘leaf to spoon' service for the sweetener. The new organization, Stevia Internacional Europe, is being formed by ingredients supplier Lavollée SA, flavor company Mane,and sugar producer Cristal Union Group.
  • More major news came in April, when Swiss biotech company Evolva announced its intended purchase of California ingredients research firm Abunda. The two companies are working together to develop stevia's sweet glycosides from fermented baker's yeast.
  • The new source, which won't be available for commercial-scale production until 2014 or 2015, promises to  "bypasses the complex logistics associated with the traditional cultivation, processing and refining of stevia plants."

Check out Ingredient Intelligence Monograph's new comprehensive news report on the sweeteners segment, including more on up-and-coming sweetness solutions of interest to marketers, formulators and executives.

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