What is behind the rise and rise of stevia?

5 Jun 2019

Stevia’s popularity shows no sign of fading as the number of product launches containing stevia nearly tripled in 2018 compared to the previous year. What makes manufacturers so sweet on stevia?

According to Mintel data shared by stevia supplier PureCircle, the number of new products containing stevia grew 31% in 2018, while the growth rate in 2017 was 11%. Overall, stevia was used in 29% of new food and beverage products containing high intensity sweeteners, up from 10% in 2011.

What is behind the rise and rise of stevia?
Stevia use in new products continues to soar - particularly in Asia

While manufacturers in North America and Europe have been steadily increasing their use of stevia-derived sweeteners for around a decade, last year the Asia-Pacific region was the leader for new product launches, accounting for 42% of the total. Europe came in second, with 21% of the world’s new stevia-sweetened products.

Stevia’s continuing success is widely attributed to extracts with an improved taste profile and lower cost, but consumer demand for naturally sweetened foods and beverages has also been a major driver. In 2017, product launches sweetened with stevia outpaced those with aspartame for the first time, and last year, aspartame was the high intensity sweetener of choice in just 20% of new products, down from 36% in 2011.

Of course, taste continues to play a crucial role when it comes to which sweetener manufacturers choose, and stevia suppliers have made strides in this regard in recent years. Most now offer a range of stevia-derived sweeteners based on different sweet components. PureCircle, for example, has developed stevia plants that naturally contain about 20 times more Reb D and Reb M than standard stevia plants, helping to bring down the cost of extracts containing these molecules, which are said to have a more sugar-like taste.

Layn Corp has also been developing stevia sweeteners with more of the minor glycosides Reb C, Reb D and Reb M and plays up the natural origins of its stevia leaf extracts. Meanwhile, Cargill released its own branded stevia product in 2015, and just last month, suppliers Sweet Green Fields and Tate & Lyle introduced a stevia extract that can be labelled as ‘natural flavour’ in the US.

Consumers may well be more interested in foods and drinks with natural ingredients than they were previously, but products carrying a ‘natural’ claim on-pack have become steadily less common. Instead, manufacturers have focused on making their ingredient lists simple and easy to understand, as the clean label trend has become the default in many markets. In light of this broader trend, it is little wonder that a plant-based, zero-calorie sweetener should continue to find favour among food and drink makers all over the world.

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