The European Union now accounts for 40% of all new stevia-containing foods and drink around the world, according to Mintel data, and companies are ramping up efforts to appeal to the market.
The ingredient’s use has seen a meteoric rise in Europe following its approval less than two years ago, in November 2011. At that time, multinational companies were able to take advantage of several years of product development in the United States in particular, where stevia extracts were approved for use in 2008. But companies are still looking for ways to differentiate themselves in Europe.
Earlier this week, Dutch technology company Phytonext said it had developed what it calls an ‘opposite approach’ to stevia, as it aims to extract the compounds responsible for its bitter aftertaste, rather than the sweet components.
It plans to set up a consortium of European companies in order to tap into the sweetener’s potential through collaboration for cultivation, processing and distribution.
“After the extraction the stevia is exactly the same, except for the bitter components that are largely gone,” the company says. “After treatment the stevia can be used directly as a natural ingredient or as a raw material to extract the sweet components from. The latter has the advantage that there is a minimal risk of bitter components in the end product.”
Before setting up its consortium of companies, Phytonext says it aims to conduct large scale tests at an industrial facility due to be completed in Q1 2014.
Meanwhile, global ingredient giant Ingredion says it has experienced increased demand for its Enliten Reb A stevia sweeteners, and the company is touting its expertise in specialty starches alongside the stevia extracts as a way to build back the texture and mouthfeel that may be lacking in reduced sugar foods and beverages. It claims its stevia extracts can cut sugar content by up to 30% in fruit preparations and by up to 80% in sauces and ketchups.
“As public awareness of the importance of health and diet increases, more and more consumers are looking to reduced sugar and low-calorie alternatives,” says Mona Rademacher, European marketing manager, Enliten, at Ingredion Germany GmbH. “…Since gaining approval in 2011, we have seen a steep rise in the use of stevia in Europe and the region now drives the global market, with the UK, Belgium, and Germany seeing the most new product launches.”
The company says its extracts have a clean taste profile due to a high rebaudioside A content, said to be the sweetest and least bitter available at either 95% or 97%.
Like some other stevia companies, including industry giant PureCircle, Ingredion is also touting its total control of the supply chain as a reason to trust supply, from field to final product.