Natural sweetness intensifies

by Jeff Gelsi
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The increase in stevia-based sweetener sales gives credence to the idea consumers are looking for more natural sweeteners. Yet in many applications the stevia-based ingredients, being high-intensity sweeteners, will require the assistance of bulk sweeteners, thus creating a need for natural bulk sweeteners. Erythritol, a polyol or sugar alcohol, is one option.

Stevia-based sweeteners rose to 14% of the global market for intense sweeteners, also known as high-intensity sweeteners, in 2009, which was up from 1% in 2007, according to “The Global Market for Intense Sweeteners” released in April by Leatherhead Food Research, Surrey, United Kingdom.

“The major change to have taken place over the last couple of years has been the increasing significance of stevia, mainly as a result of its rising uptake in the U.S.,” the report said.

The natural characteristics of the zero-calorie sweetener extracted from the stevia plant are a bonus with consumers.

“The popularity of stevia is also believed to be increasing as a result of the growing consumer demand for more natural products, with people turning away from additives and ingredients perceived as artificial,” the Leatherhead report said. “By the middle of the next decade, it is possible that natural varieties may account for up to a quarter of the global sweeteners market.”

Another potential market for natural sweeteners may be in the sugar-free confectionery segment.

The Leatherhead report said, “Although the U.S. has a large market for sugar confectionery, demand for sugar-free sweets has declined over the last couple of years. Much of this has been due to concern over the safety and artificial nature of many intense sweeteners, coupled with a trend toward more natural lines.”

When making natural sugar-free products, stevia-based sweeteners may replace the sweetness of sugars, but polyols, also known as sugar alcohols, may be needed to replace sugar’s bulk. Cargill offers natural Zerose, which is a polyol known as erythritol. Zerose is included in the tabletop sweetener Truvia that features a stevia-based sweetener.

“Erythritol tastes great by itself, but it is less sweet than sucrose as a sweetening ingredient,” said Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager for Cargill Health & Nutrition, Wayzata, Minn. “It has been found that combining a little erythritol with more intense, non-caloric sweeteners will change the sweetness to be more like that of sugar.

“In addition, it prevents the after-taste and off-flavors sometimes associated when intense sweeteners are used alone.”

According to the Calorie Control Council, erythritol occurs naturally in fruits such as pears, melons and grapes as well as foods such as mushrooms and fermentation-derived foods such as wine, soy sauce and cheese. Erythritol is about 70% as sweet as sucrose. Erythritol has no calories and a high digestive tolerance, according to the Calorie Control Council, while it is safe for people with diabetes and does not cause tooth decay.

An estimated 194 million U.S. consumers, or 60% of the population, eat low-calorie and low-sugar foods, according to the Leatherhead report. Stevia has found a place in that category since its U.S. market stood at $180 million by the end of 2009.

The stevia global supply, at 1,500 tonnes in 2009, should continue to grow.

“As far as the future is concerned, some industry sources feel that the stevia market has the potential to reach a value of up to $700 million within the next four to five years, with some of the opinion that somewhere in the region of $2 billion is a more realistic figure,” the Leatherhead report said.

The global market for intense sweeteners was more than $1.49 billion in 2009, up 21% in value terms from 2007, according to the Leatherhead report. Market volume was worth an estimated 86 million tonnes. Stevia’s market share increased mainly at the expense of aspartame and sucralose.

Aspartame in 2009 accounted for $655 million and a leading 44% share of the global market value. Following aspartame in global rankings were sucralose, $250 million and a 17% share; stevia, $215 million and a 14% share; acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), $145 million and a 10% share; cyclamate, $140 million and a 9% share; and saccharin, $90 million and a 6% share.

The United States accounted for a leading 58% of the global intense sweetener market in value terms. Europe and Asia-Pacific accounted for 22% and 19%, respectively.

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