The number of stevia-sweetened products launched around the world in 2012 'nearly doubled' compared to 2011 – a figure that leading stevia manufacturer, PureCircle, attributes to a recent steady stream of naturally-sweetened beverage launches.
PureCircle vice president of global marketing and innovation, Jason Hecker, told BeverageDaily.com that stevia shows “great potential” in a range of beverage products, including flavoured milks, carbonated soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages.
“We’ve seen steady growth in beverage launches with stevia,” said Hecker. “Stevia launches in beverages drove a large percentage of the over 1000 stevia launches we saw globally in 2012.”
Hecker expects this trend to carry over into 2013, as carbonated soft drink and flavoured milk manufacturers continue “taking advantage of stevia.”
“We expect this to continue as the world’s largest beverage manufacturers continue to launch with stevia in more markets and across several brands,” he said.
Dairy, soft drinks “taking advantage of stevia”
“There are two categories that are now taking advantage of stevia, which have tremendous potential – carbonated soft drinks and flavoured milks,” said Hecker.
“Both of these product categories are under pressure to reduce sugar/calories. Soft drinks represent a large percentage of sweetener usage globally and prior to stevia there wasn't a mass scale natural sweetener available to help reduce calories in ‘regular’ products.”
“Similarly there has not been a suitable non-nutritive sweetener for flavoured milks,” he said.
Hecker also pinpointed alcoholic beverages as another area of “great potential.”
“There have been recent alcoholic beverage launches with stevia by major brands."
In February 2013, Heineken’s Finnish business Hartwall claimed to have launched the European Union’s (EU) first alcoholic beverage sweetened with stevia. Hartwall’s Original Cool Grape Cranberry contains just 35 calories per 100ml serving - 30% less calories than an ordinary cranberry long drink.
“Stevia shows great potential for this category, and can help manufacturers reduce calories and sugar levels, with great tasting natural sweetness and cost efficiency,” said Hecker.
“Stevia not a one-note sweetener”
During the early stages of stevia development, steviol glycoside purity was the focus, said Hecker.
“Reb A ingredients with 95% or greater Reb A content, for example, were considered the best ingredients that the stevia plants to offer by many.”
Since then, stevia has “evolved greatly” - with stevia manufacturers such as PureCircle recognising that Reb A was not necessarily the right solution for all beverage formulations.
“Stevia is not a one-note sweetener,” he said. “There are numerous steviol glycosides and opportunities for great tasting blends of steviol glycosides and ingredients. We’re mining the leaf to develop the best tasting stevia ingredients and will continue to innovate with stevia formulations.”
“Many of the initial challenges to formulating with stevia can be overcome by finding the right stevia solution and then fine-tuning the formulation,” Hecker added.