Stevia's global reach expands

by Jeff Gelski
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Stevia has been a food and beverage ingredient in Asia for decades. In recent years the zero-calorie, high-intensity sweetener has expanded in use in the United States, undergone a year of integration in Europe and recently received approval for use in foods and beverages in Canada.

“We are seeing clear interest globally for stevia as many regions of the world face rising obesity rates and consumer trends toward more natural products take hold,” said Nate Yates, business director for the Enliten sweetener brand from Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill. “Certainly Asia has historically been a strong region for stevia, but we have seen an impact and growth on all continents. The value proposition of stevia will continue to drive global growth in both food and beverage.”

Food and beverage companies looking to take advantage of stevia’s global opportunities may wish to understand regulations by specific country and taste expectations by geographic area.

“(Regulation is) very complicated, and that’s why it’s so important to work with someone who has the regulation prowess to lead in the right direction,” said Breah Ostendorf, global commercial manager for Truvia, a stevia brand from Cargill, Minneapolis.

The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (U.S.P.) includes stevia in proposed revisions for its Food Chemicals Codex, a compendium of food ingredient quality standards. The stevia revisions will focus on an approach for separating and measuring nine steviol glycosides present in the stevia leaf.

The U.S.P. already has a monograph for Rebaudioside A, one of the glycosides. Now a range of steviol glycosides, including mixtures of different glycosides, are being used in a variety of products. The new Food Chemicals Codex proposal uses two new U.S.P. reference standards: Rebaudioside A and steviol glycosides system suitability for identification and measurement of individual glycosides.

U.S. approval opens market

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2008 ruled it had no questions about the safe use of certain stevia extracts in foods and beverages. Stevia’s use soon increased globally. According to a 2011 report from Zenith International, worldwide sales of stevia reached an estimated 3,500 tonnes in 2010 for an overall market value of $285 million, which marked a 27% increase from 2009. The report said the global market for stevia will reach 11,000 tonnes, equivalent to $825 million by value, by 2014.

The European Commission in November 2011 authorized the use of stevia extracts at appropriate levels for 31 food categories, including soft drinks, desserts, confectionery and table top sweeteners.

While stevia extracts, since they are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, may be used to replace the sweetness lost in sugar reduction, they are unable to replace sugar’s bulk. U.S. formulators often have used erythritol, a polyol, to replace the bulk. Suppliers of erythritol and stevia promote their ingredients as natural.

A problem arises in Europe, however. Erythritol is not approved there for use in beverages, Ms. Ostendorf said. Efforts are under way to obtain its European approval, she said.

“We feel generally positive about the way discussions are going,” Ms. Ostendorf said.

Partly because of the erythritol situation, beverage companies in Europe are launching mid-calorie beverages with stevia that have reduced sugar levels as opposed to zero-calorie beverages with no sugar.

“The primary difference is the labeling guidelines between the markets,” Mr. Yates said. “Regardless of labeling, we feel the European consumer recognizes the naturalness of a non-caloric sweetener derived from the leaf of a plant. Additionally, the non-G.M.O. aspect of stevia is very appealing to the European marketplace.”

Taste expectation is another difference between Europe and the United States.

“European taste expectations are absolutely different than U.S. taste expectations,” Ms. Ostendorf said.

“German consumers might prefer a yogurt that is more sweet than Nordic consumers,” she said.

Differences may come in texture, taste intensity and sweetness intensity. Those traits may differ by country, too.

Known for its Splenda sucralose high-intensity sweeteners, London-based Tate & Lyle, P.L.C. has begun to supply stevia. The company in 2012 introduced Tasteva, designed to reduce sugar levels by 50% or more, in Europe and South America. Tate & Lyle plans more regional roll-outs this year.

“Tate & Lyle spent over two years analyzing various steviol glycosides compositions and developed a proprietary process to give manufacturers the optimal balance of sweetness with 100% great taste,” said Jeremy Thompson, director of natural sweeteners product management at Tate & Lyle.

Canada’s approval is the latest

Increased use of stevia in Canada appears imminent. Health Canada on Nov. 30, 2012, modified its list of permitted sweeteners to enable the use of steviol glycosides as a table-top sweetener and as a sweetener in certain food categories.

“This is a super exciting growth opportunity for our brand as well as stevia-sweetened products,” Ms. Ostendorf said.

Mr. Yates said, “We are very excited by Health Canada’s decision, and early interest from food and beverage companies for stevia extracts has been quite strong. The convergence of solid consumer recognition for stevia and progressive food and beverage companies has created a fertile potential.”

Mexico, the Middle East and Africa are other potential markets.

The Truvia business and Grupo Herdez, a producer, distributor and seller of foods in Mexico, entered an agreement for the distribution and marketing of Truvia sweeteners in Mexico in December 2012. Grupo Herdez will contribute its local marketing ability to the Truvia brand to build consumer awareness through advertising and in-store campaigns.

Sweet Green Fields, Bellingham, Wash., in 2012 partnered with FX Morales y Asociados S.A. de C.V. to grow its distribution platform to the Mexican market. FX Morales, a food ingredients distributor, has such multinational customers as Grupo Gamesa, Grupo Bimbo S.A.B. de C.V., Grupo Maseca, Kellogg Co., Nestle, Kraft, Unilever and Bristol Meyers Squibb.

GLG Life Tech Corp., Vancouver, B.C., signed an agreement with Orkila Holding S.A.L. for the distribution and marketing of GLG’s stevia extract products in Middle East and African markets.

“We see this move as an excellent opportunity to reinforce Orkila’s position as the leading chemical distributor in these emerging markets,” said Antoine Sacy, chairman of Orkila Holding. “Representing one of the world’s leaders in supplying zero-calorie sweeteners used in food and beverage products and solutions will strengthen Orkila across a number of important market segments in the Middle East and Africa markets.”

GLG also signed an agreement with KP Manish Global Ingredients Pvt Ltd., or KP Manish, for the distribution and marketing of GLG’s stevia extract products to the pharmaceutical, food and beverage sectors in India. KP Manish will market GLG’s line of stevia extract products.

Regulatory approvals for stevia

 

Dec. 17, 2008: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it had no questions about two petitions regarding the safety of using Rebaudioside A, an extract from the stevia plant, in foods and beverages.

Nov. 14, 2011: The European Commission authorized the use of stevia at appropriate levels for 31 different food categories, including soft drinks, desserts, confectionery and table top sweeteners.

Nov. 30, 2012: Health Canada modified its list of permitted sweeteners to enable the use of steviol gylcosides as a table-top sweetener and as a sweetener in certain food categories.
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