Concern over sugar consumption driving stevia market, analysts

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Stevia, Sugar, Sugar substitute, Datamonitor, Uk

Sugar consumption is an escalating concern among Australian and UK consumers, and sweeteners with natural credentials are benefiting from this trend, according to a new report from independent business analyst Datamonitor.

The publication, The Future of Sweeteners: Consumer Insight and Product Opportunities​, shows intensifying health consciousness has driven demand for lower calorie alternatives to sugar, while negative publicity surrounding artificial sweeteners such as aspartame has fuelled the natural sweeteners category.

The Datamonitor research indicates that 37 per cent of UK and 40 per cent of Australian consumers are paying a high amount of attention to their sugar consumption. Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, the proportions were even higher, said the researchers.

In terms of the British market, Katrina Diamonon, consumer analyst at Datamonitor said: “With high profile government media campaigns in the UK focused around ‘healthy’ eating, it is not surprising that our figures show growing concern over sugar consumption.”

Furthermore, she said that given how important it is to communicate the dangers of a high sugar diet, recent developments at UK governmental level pointing to a potential freeze on the advertising budget for these campaigns is of considerable concern.

Market sweetening for stevia

According to Datamonitor, stevia-derived sweeteners in particular are leading the move away from additives and ingredients that are perceived as artificial.

Diamonon adds that the plant based sweetener is set to become increasingly popular in the UK when it gains final EU wide regulatory approval next year.

There has been a great deal of excitement about stevia and its high purity component Reb A since the US Food and Drug Administration said it considers the zero-calorie, natural sweetener to be GRAS (generally recognized as safe) in December 2008. The Australian food safety authority FSANZ also approved it in late 2008.

April this year saw a positive opinion from EFSA on the safety of stevia, with final EU approval expected next year.

According to data from another market research group, Mintel, more than 100 stevia-containing products have already been launched in the US this year alone and the launch rate is picking up pace. And Mintel has said it expects sales of stevia-sweetened products to top $2bn by 2011.

Hurdles

Dairy, bakery, confectionery and beverages in particular are seen as sectors for stevia application but the natural sweetener, argues Datamonitor, needs to overcome hurdles surrounding taste and price before it can achieve mainstream adoption.

The problematic aftertaste has presented difficulties for companies wishing to use the sweetener, and flavour companies have been trying to find ways to mask it without detracting from the perceived benefits of its natural status.

The price of stevia-derived sweeteners is also prohibitively high for many manufacturers at present, with the cost of Reb A in the region of $300 a kilogram.

But the high price is mainly attributed to the sector’s early stage of development, with prices expected to fall once more manufacturers invest in extraction, processing and refining capabilities, claim market analysts.

Education drives

A lack of consumer awareness about stevia could also be holding back its wider take-up.

Marketing director at Granular, Florence Berglund, recently told our sister site FoodNavigator.com that while there is a strong interest from the market in stevia, the reason “it hasn’t been picked up as fast as expected is that consumers need more awareness…This is one of the things we are really trying to do…For sure the scientific opinion is quite a significant step.”

Moreover, she said that the regulatory status of stevia in Europe would be likely to garner interest from the mainstream press, which could also help raise awareness of the sweetener among consumers – and as awareness grows, more manufacturers are likely to get on board.

Related topics: Commodities, Cocoa & Sugar

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