Stevia has achieved remarkable market penetration in the past two years. According to Nielsen Homescan Panel, stevia products are found in 47 percent of all U.S. households, and half of those products are made with Cargill's Truvia stevia leaf extract.
According to Innova Market Insights, global launches of stevia-sweetened products were up 18 percent between January and August 2012, over the same period a year earlier.
Other innovations in stevia
● In January 2013, Steviva Brands launched a stevia-based syrup designed to replace high fructose corn syrup in beverages. The Oregon-based company says the syrup is GMO-free and has an identical mouthfeel and flavor profile to high fructose corn syrup.
● Demand for more American-grown stevia, and fewer imports from China, brings with it a higher price premium. In February 2013, Sweet Green Fields, a leading U.S.-based producer of stevia extracts, announced the Select Fields Program, targeting buyers who want stevia from an American-grown crop.
"With the Select Fields Program, we will provide food and beverage manufacturers with a partnership approach to the procurement of their stevia extracts and where applicable, allow them to leverage the U.S.-grown story as they see fit for their product line," said Dean Francis, chief executive officer of Sweet Green Fields.
The program will cover the full line of Sweet Green Fields products, including Sweetesse Stevia 97; the recently launched proprietary, high-purity composition products Optesse HPX and Optesse HPX; and a new line of high-value natural extracts that launched in March.
● In March 2013, Natural Taste Consulting introduced a novel licorice masker for stevia and published a four-page white paper, available for download as a PDF.
"Through a thorough structure-function analysis of the sweet taste receptor and Rebaudioside A (Reb A), we identified plant-derived compounds. Our unique, sustainable and cost-effective product can significantly reduce the undesired licorice taste of stevia extracts," the company reported.
● Perfection of stevia-flavored products continues. Formulators agree that the solution lies in blending, both with stevia and other sweeteners, and with stevia glycocides with itself. Today's stevia ingredients combine different parts of the plants components together, (its steviol glycosides), rather than just focusing on the glycoside Reb A. Formulators have also learned that there can be significant flavor interactions when stevia is combined with other ingredients.
● The U.S. and EU find different strengths in stevia.
John Fry, Truvia stevia leaf extract research consultant at Cargill, believes American consumers are ahead of the rest of the world in sweetener innovation because it is a single large market that can support new ideas, he said. "The EU is much more fragmented by language and national customs/taste, which influences the acceptance of new innovations. In some instances, there are regulatory barriers to innovation. For instance, you can’t use stevia in baked goods in the EU. Even though it works well in these applications, there is a blanket ban on all High Purity Stevia (HPS) in baked goods, so therefore no EU innovation in this area."
But, there are exceptions, such as confectionary. "The EU is way ahead of the U.S. in sugar-free confectionery. There seems to be greater awareness in Europe of dental health as an issue with kids’ sweets."
There is also greater media hysteria about synthetic sweeteners in the EU (and about GM ingredients) and this translates into marketing pressure to remove (especially) aspartame. "Despite this," Fry said, "consumers don’t appear to change purchase habits in reaction to aspartame in ingredient lists (even if they say they do when they are surveyed)."
Drinks and tabletop sweeteners will continue to lead product launches, predicts Maria Teresa Scardigli, executive director of the International Stevia Council in Brussels. But consumers will also see more breakfast cereals, snacks, desserts such as ice cream, confectionery products, and jams and jellies with stevia.
Want to learn more? This is a small part of the Engredia Monograph: Sweeteners Edition.