BATH, UNITED KINGDOM — The overall global market value for stevia reached $304 million in 2012 as sales of stevia were 4,100 tonnes, up 6.5% from 2011, according to a report issued Oct. 21 by Zenith International, a food and drink consultant company based in Bath. Zenith International forecast the global market for stevia will reach 6,250 tonnes, equivalent to $490 million by value, by 2016.

Future growth for stevia should come after pending regulatory approvals in such markets as India and Indonesia, according to Zenith International. Extracts from stevia are used as zero-calorie, high-intensity sweeteners.

Click to enlarge: Global stevia market growth.

“As rising levels of obesity and diabetes continue to generate headlines, there has never been so much emphasis on reducing our caloric intake as well as consuming healthier foods and beverages,” said Davide Deiana, senior market intelligence consultant for Zenith International. “After persistent efforts by key producers, which led to widespread legislative approval, stevia is finally being recognized for its natural, zero-calorie sweetening properties.”

While people in Japan and South America have used stevia as a sweetener for decades, Zenith International pointed to 2008 as a turning point for stevia’s increase in global use. That year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it had no objection to the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status of Rebaudioside A, a steviol glycoside within the stevia leaf, as an ingredient in foods and beverages. Regulatory approval in other parts of the world followed, including the European Union in 2011.

“Its status as a global ingredient was secured with its incorporation into leading soft drinks brands manufactured by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo,” Zenith International said.

Click to enlarge: Global stevia market by region.

This year Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. in Argentina launched Coca-Cola Life, a soft drink that is sweetened with sugar and stevia.

Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive officer of PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y., spoke about natural sweeteners in general during an Oct. 16 earnings conference call.

“We are staying on the path of innovating along natural sweeteners and thinking about flavoring agents to make sure sugar tastes more sugary,” she said. “So that’s all we’re focused on. We talked about our products coming to market in 2014. That’s really the track we’re on, and we’re not thinking about it now because we haven’t yet got a launch date. Once we have a launch date, you’ll hear a lot more about it.”