Stevia-derived sweeteners have been used in foods in Japan since the 1970s, when stevia was cultivated as an alternative to artificial sweeteners, and from the 1980s it has been used in other parts of Asia and South America – from where it originates. But regulatory approval in the United States in December 2008 and in Europe in November 2011 have led to ballooning interest and innovation with the sweetener, and product developers hailed it as the ‘holy grail’ of sweeteners due to its natural, zero-calorie profile.
“I have always said you can’t just look at the development in a single market to get an idea of how that market will develop overall,” PureCircle’s vice president of global marketing and innovation, Jason Hecker, told FoodNavigator. “There’s a lot of lessons being drawn that weren’t drawn in the past.”
PureCircle has done a lot of research across markets looking in particular at awareness of stevia as a way to predict how open consumers would be to stevia-sweetened products.
“We have been pretty good at predicting how fast awareness is going to grow,” he said.
The company conducted its first consumer study in 2009 in the United States, where it found that about 30% of survey participants knew about stevia. That had risen to about 60% two to three years later, and Hecker says this rate of awareness expansion has played out in Europe too.
“In France, it grew to nearly 50% within two years and we have seen a similar thing happening in Germany,” he said.
Think global, act local
Looking at how other firms have introduced products on global markets can help companies work out what sorts of products might be successful at home, he added.
“Latin America has been particularly aggressive in launching products for kids….If you look at obesity rates in some markets in Europe, they are among the highest in the world. You can draw parallels with countries like Mexico, which unfortunately is also in those upper echelons of children’s obesity rates.”
In addition, stevia has been more successful in certain product categories, such as table top sweeteners and juices.
“It is important to connect the dots globally,” Hecker said. “…You can learn a lot about how companies are positioning and marketing. Companies are not just taking one approach. Some are relaunching a regular product and others are doing line extensions.
“In a lot of ways, these are learning opportunities.”