Stevia leaf marketing intensifies amid North and Latin American NPD boom

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21 Sep 2018 --- Stevia application continues to grow in food and beverages when assessing CAGR between 2013 and 2017. According to new Innova Market Insights data presented in a webinar yesterday, the rise in applications in North America at 17 percent, Australasia on 21 percent and especially Latin America on 37 percent has been spectacular. As consumer awareness around the sweetener grows, new product data points to a rise in marketing in American markets where “sweetened with stevia” is mentioned more frequently on the front of packaged goods. 

When assessing North and Latin American launches containing stevia, the soft drinks category leads, accounting for 31 percent of launches. But interestingly, dairy, which accounts for 12 percent of launches and cereals on 7 percent, are also significant in terms of NPD. 

In terms of the fastest growing market sub-category for launches with stevia from 2016 to 2017, sweet spreads leads for applications on 95 percent growth over this period. But ice cream, cereal & energy bars and table sauces are all enjoying huge growth in uptake too, with strong front of pack marketing being reported.

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Source: Innova Market Insights

Innova Market Insights also notes strong growth in the stevia leaf being promoted in food and beverages, with 29 percent CAGR reported in launches noting “stevia leaf” in the product name, description, claim and ingredients from 2013 to 2017 in the North and Latin American region. Beverages (43 percent), yogurt (9 percent) and bakery (5 percent) lead for product launches noting “stevia leaf” extract/sweetener ingredient application in their product description. The use of the word “leaf” highlights the natural origin of the ingredient further amid the clean label trend.

Sugar reduction is at the top of many NPD agendas, globally. There have been a growing number of calls for sugar reduction and moves such as a sugar tax coming into force earlier this year in the UK. As a result, the market penetration of new food and beverages with sugar reduction claims continues to grow. An Innova Market Insights analysis of new product launches with the claims of “low sugar,” “sugar free” and “sugar-reduced” found that these products accounted for just under 5 percent of all global launches reported in 2013, but by 2017, this had risen to 6 percent, which is a CAGR of 25 percent over this period. 

Sugar reduction formulation comes with a backdrop whereby consumers are looking for clean label solutions. Recent advances in stevia-based sweeteners are allowing for a new generation of products whereby the sugar content has been reduced dramatically. 

Recent R&D breakthroughs have led to a new generation of stevia extracts where the metallic aftertaste of the high-intensity sweetener has been minimized. Commercial progress has been reported from various suppliers, including Tate & Lyle and Sweet Green Fields. 

Papao Saisnith is Global Director of Sweeteners at Tate & Lyle. Speaking during the webinar yesterday, she noted the changing consumer needs and perceptions around sugar and health. 

“Consumers are looking for ways to reduce sugar consumption, but they are often torn between health and taste. This is summarized by what we call the Sugar Reduction Balancing Act. Multiple factors impact the sugar reduction challenge, but we often find that taste is key and consumers consider a sugar-like taste as the holy grail,” she notes. 

81 percent of consumer says that taste has the great impact on food and beverage purchases. According to Saisnith, healthfulness and price also has a significant effect on repeat purchases. 

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Papao Saisnith, Global Director of
Sweeteners at Tate & Lyle

“In addition, from a global perspective, diabetes is becoming an epidemic and a wider health concern. In response to rising health issues, regulatory bodies are responding with sugar taxes. There are currently 11 countries that have a sugar tax, including France, Mexico and the UK.”
“The end goal of sugar reduction may seem simple enough, but it can be challenging. Replacing sugar with sweeteners that have a great taste is a distinct challenge for food and beverage manufacturers,” she adds. “Food and beverage manufacturers are responding by removing sugars and using alternative sweeteners in a formulation, but they sometimes offer varying attributes that relate to taste and mouthfeel.”

“Recently in the US, we got approval for 40 different steviol glycosides as components,” notes Mel Jackson, Chief Science Officer at Sweet Green Fields. “There are some analytical challenges to be met yet these are determined by how we measure all those to get to the total amount of content. That is evolving in the US. If you look elsewhere, like in Japan, for example, there is a 95 steviol glycosides content requirement but they also have an additional requirement which means that the stevia should contain no less than 80 percent of the total of Reb A, Reb B and steviol glycosides on a dry weight basis. So they are essentially limiting what they use, so this is something to watch out for. You need to look at individual country regulations.”

Often, regulation of stevia sweeteners and other natural sweeteners relates to the complex issue around standardization. During a webinar Q&A session yesterday, Jackson was asked: “Should there be more standardization when it comes to the labeling of sweeteners such as stevia?” He responded by saying: “Stevia sweeteners are made directly from a leaf, but they are being labeled in a variety of different ways. There are some products on the market that contain stevia that are labeled as a leaf extract, Reb A, Reb B, for example, and so on. To gain regulatory approval from the FDA, 95 percent of the dry weight of the stevia extract must be from the stevia leaf – so it needs to be almost pure. Stevia needs to contain steviol glycosides which are the chemical compounds responsible for the sweet taste of the stevia plant and the main ingredient of many sweeteners marketed under the generic name stevia and several trade names.”

“It might be a good idea to standardize this – we have seen some efforts on this, but it may take some time to materialize,” he adds. 

“Sweetness potency is directly related to steviol glycoside types. In the stevia extract Reb A, it is around 250-300 times sweeter. Reb C is only 50-100 times sweeter than sugar. By having Reb A over Reb C will result in a sweetener composition. The difference in potency is structurally related, but if you took Reb A and Reb C and looked at their structures you would see clear differences which result in profound differences in the sweetness,” Jackson claims. 

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Mel Jackson, Chief Science Officer
at Sweet Green Fields

When replacing sugar with natural sweeteners, it can affect the mouthfeel or bulk of the food or beverage application. “Some sweeteners do lack mouthfeel when they are used to replace sugar. We have tried to develop steviol glycoside to overcome these issues, there is still research activity in this area to see if we can figure it out,” Jackson explains. “There are, however, some soluble fibers that we can use, such as inulin, that would bring back some of the body and mouthfeel where you really need the thickness. That would answer the natural and clean trend, which is what consumers tend to prefer.”

Speaking about the potential for formulating chocolate with stevia and the new trending sweetener allulose, Jackson notes that this is an area being worked on by the company, which has a partnership in place with allulose supplier Tate & Lyle. “Removing sugar from a chocolate formulation does leave a big hole, which requires a bulking agent. Allulose has a very good texture and taste in chocolate. But current regulations in the US state that it must be labeled as a sugar. But you can claim ‘reduced calories’ on the product. It depends on what you’re looking for from a marketing perspective,” he says. 

“If you try to replace all of the sugar in chocolate with just stevia, you get a flavor imbalance,” he adds. “Typically you've got a bitter, astringent taste, and those are exaggerated with stevia as the sole sweetener. If you let some of the sugar be replaced by allulose, for example, this means you are going to use less stevia to bridge the sweetness gap. This eliminates some of the bitter astringency and you’re going to get some great results from that,” he adds.

There are also other combinations of sweeteners that may be possible from a synergy standpoint. According to Jackson, when you are looking at blends within the natural and clean label realms, you can also use monk fruit. “We have found that there is a good synergy between stevia and monk fruit – and combining both gives you the advantages of both and a more sugar-like taste. However, I would only recommend using it in beverages, outside of that you may get a fermented taste and if you are sensitive to it, it can be quite obvious,” he explains. 

“Also, thaumatin blends very well with stevia. In fact, in yogurt and cereal applications it can be very advantageous. Thaumatin is a low-calorie sweetener and flavor modifier – it is known for its lingering notes and it is natural too.” 

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Source: Tate & Lyle

“In Latin America, for example, when you take stevia as a liquid concentrate, you can often find it blended with sucralose. This can result in a very good taste, but they are losing the natural claims in terms of labeling, but this is something we see more of.”

“When it comes to stevia and other natural sweetener blends, imagination is the only limit,” he explains.

At the IFT18 Annual Meeting & Food Expo in Chicago earlier this year, Tate & Lyle and Sweet Green Fields introduced two innovative stevia-extracted products – Optimizer Stevia 4.10 and Intesse Stevia 2.0. 

Optimizer Stevia 4.10 features comparable great taste and offers reduced cost in use opportunities for food and beverage producers. It is claimed to surpass highly pure stevia extracts RA99-RA100 in tabletop sweeteners and drinks. For food and beverage manufacturers familiar with using high-purity Reb A stevia extracts (RA95-RA100) to formulate low- and zero-calorie products, the Optimizer Stevia range offers fewer sugars and calories, its lower in cost and has a great taste profile.

According to Jackson, Optimizer Stevia 4.10 is commercially available and these stevia sweeteners, produced from stevia leaf extracts lend a very clean and natural taste without bitterness or lasting aftertaste when replacing 3-7 brix of sugar. “It is also approved in any country where stevia is approved,” he adds. 

You can listen to the webinar here

By Elizabeth Green

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