Stevia outshines aspartame as high intensity sweetener of choice in global new product launches in 2017

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: istockphoto-HandmadePictures
Picture: istockphoto-HandmadePictures
Mintel data* shared by stevia supplier PureCircle shows the number of global new product launches containing stevia grew by 10% in 2017, with stevia utilized in 28% of new products containing high intensity sweeteners, slightly ahead of aspartame – which featured in 25% of launches.

Top categories for stevia launches were snacks, juice drinks, dairy, carbonated soft drinks and confectionery, said PureCircle, which also noted particular growth in new stevia-sweetened products targeting younger children, plus activity in energy drinks, condiments, and sauces.

“In 2017, launches of products containing stevia with a claim for kids aged 5-12 increased 16% from 2016.”

By numbers, the top two regions were AsiaPacific (40%) and Europe (22%), followed by Latin America, North America and Middle East/Africa, with introductions from Calbee Foods, Coca-Cola, Danone, Grupo Bimbo, Kraft Heinz, Nestle, PepsiCo, Seven & I Holdings, and Unilever, said PureCircle.

From an ingredient supply perspective (wholesale values), the stevia market is predicted to grow at rates of 20-40% per year in the next three years, according to the International Stevia Council: “If the growth rates were to continue through 2021, then B2B sales could be in the range $1bn to $1.4bn.”

PureCircle: The stevia leaf has so much more to offer than just one molecule

Right now, you can produce stevia extracts from the leaf; enzymatically modify extracts from the leaf to make natural flavors or sweeteners; or bypass the leaf altogether and convert sugars into the best-tasting glycosides using microbes (eg. Cargill is using a genetically engineered baker’s yeast to make Reb D+M​).

All of these approaches have merit, although transparency in labeling will be critical if consumer trust in the ‘natural’ credentials of stevia is to be retained, argued PureCircle VP global marketing and innovation, Faith Son, who said PureCircle was focusing its efforts on non-GMO plant breeding programs to create varieties of stevia (Starleaf​) naturally higher in the best-tasting glycosides.

“From a processing standpoint, our primary focus as a company has been on technologies such as purification, filtration and extraction to preserve what’s originally found in the leaf. We also have IP around enzyme treatment and bioconversion, although we think the greatest market demand is around stevia leaf extracts. Ultimately our focus is on Starleaf so these other technologies could at some point become obsolete.”

The current generation of Starleaf stevia has 20x the content of those sugar like glycosides; the next generation has 40x the content

When it comes to taste, while continuous improvement is the name of the game, the fact that a brand the size of Coca-Cola now has the confidence to launch a zero calorie cola sweetened exclusively with stevia in an as yet undisclosed market outside the US this year (click HERE​) is a testament to how far the industry has come, said Son.

Food Vision 17-purecircle
Faith Son: "The current generation of Starleaf stevia has 20x the content of those sugar like glycosides [vs a standard stevia plant], but the next generation we’ve got in trial plots right now has 40x the content."

“As an industry we’ve learned so much. For a start, we learned that Reb A ​[the glycoside dominating most first generation stevia extracts], was just not enough. The taste is just not there from a consumer standpoint and I think we made a bit of a mistake as an industry by focusing too much on that one part of the leaf.

“I think today it’s clear the stevia leaf has so much more to offer than just that one molecule; we’ve now characterized more than 40 glycosides and invested in our non-GMO plant breeding program to develop a variety ​[Starleaf] which we’re propagating worldwide, ​that yields far higher quantities of better tasting parts of the leaf.

“But there’s still more work to do. The current generation of Starleaf stevia has 20x the content of those sugar like glycosides ​[vs a standard stevia plant], but the next generation we’ve got in trial plots right now has 40x the content. We’ve also developed farming programs in the US ​[North Carolina] for Starleaf stevia.”     

While PureCircle faced challenges in 2016 after shipments of refined stevia from China were temporarily held at the US border, things were now back on an even keel, she said, with sales in the six months to December 31, 2017 up 13.3% year-on-year to $53.5m, although the company still posted a net loss.

When it comes to sweetness, says Layn USA president Elaine Yu, every country is different, “but there is a definite trend in Latin America to have sweeter-tasting formulations.”

Layn USA: 'Most consumers want to see 'stevia leaf extract' on the label, not 'steviol glycosides'

Layn Corp, a leading supplier of monk fruit​ and stevia based natural sweeteners, has also been developing stevia varieties with higher percentages of the minor glycosides Reb C, D and M, said Layn US president Elaine Yu.

“We’re able to do enzymatic conversation to get to these glycosides, and we’re also looking at fermentation, but we’re definitely leaning more towards natural selection from the leaf, because I think most consumers want to see 'stevia leaf extract' on the label, not 'steviol glycosides.'​”

From a regional perspective, Layn (which is based in Guangxi Province, China, but has offices all over the world) sees growth opportunities in multiple markets, particularly in Latin America, where the company has been developing a new stevia growing region (in Guatemala), from which commercial quantities of stevia leaf extract will be available later this year, she said.

I think people like the fact that we're not just a stevia company

Layn – which started out as a botanical extraction business targeting the dietary supplements market but is now targeting the food and beverage industry with natural sweeteners and flavors - has a strategic relationship with Cargill (it has been supplying Cargill with stevia for several years), but is now dealing directly with more food and beverage manufacturers, ​added Yu.

“I think people like the fact that we are not just a stevia company, we also have monk fruit and we have flavor enhancers and taste modulators and we’revertically integrated. We supply farmers with our seeds and seedlings, train them in our standardized cultivation process, and monitor everything, from water usage to pesticide use.” ​

*The figures are from Mintel’s Global New Products Database.

Product launches featuring stevia:

Coca-Cola​ - Minute Maid Lemonade - Watermelon / Lemonade with Mint (US), Coca-Cola Stevia (Singapore), Fuze Tea (Latin America), Fanta (new flavors in Australia, Belgium, and France).

2018-03-30 07_55_09-Greek Yogurt _ Light & Fit®

Danone​ - Danone Light & Fit Greek (US), New Danone Oikos Triple Zero flavors (US), International Delight Mocha Light Iced Coffee - (US), Bonafont (Mexico).

Kraft Heinz​ - Capri Sun Sport (US, Puerto Rico), 50% Sugar Reduced Ketchup (Norway, Italy, Sweden), Heinz No Sugar Added Hoops (UK).

Nestle​ – Skinny Cow Ice Cream (US),  Nestea (US, several European countries).

PepsiCo​ – Stubborn Soda (US), Lemon Lemon (US, France, Netherlands, Germany), Mountain Dew Spiked (US), 7up (Germany, France).

Unilever ​– Breyers Delights Ice Cream (US), Lipton, new flavors (Italy, Portugal, Belgium, France, Denmark, Czech republic, Romania, Turkey).

Source​: Mintel Global new Products Database (supplied by PureCircle)

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