Statistics for diabetes and obesity around the globe are alarmingly high. The food industry started spinning off healthier foods as a positive reaction to this trend a decade ago, and today the terms ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ are consumers’ preferred terms in healthy food.
Stevia-based sweeteners fit well into this space, offering a combination of favourable attributes: natural, high intensity, and zero calories.
Stevia is competing against other natural and artificial high intensity sweeteners (HIS) available in the market. In 2008, the world high intensity sweeteners market was estimated to be close to $1.3 billion, with sucralose commanding leading position with close to 36 per cent share by value in food applications.
But since stevia-based high purity sweeteners are natural and are still in the developmental stage of product-life cycle, they are undoubtedly expensive offerings compared to the artificial HIS.
In the US the FDA only granted the first no objection letters for Reb-A’s (Rebaudioside –A) use in foods in December 2008 to Cargill and Merisant. Until then, dried stevia leaves and extracts could only be used in dietary supplements (since 1995).
In Europe the market is not yet wide open. Switzerland currently allows stevia-based sweeteners to be used in foods and beverages, but with cumbersome pre-market approval of finished products. France gave the go-ahead for temporary approval earlier this month, but the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is expected to give its safety opinion, which would pave the way for pan-EU approval, by the middle of 2010.
In the US, multinational beverage manufacturers have rolled out new product lines sweetened with stevia sweeteners.
As these lines get popular, there is a strong possibility that stevia sweeteners could replace aspartame in some diet variants. In the long run is likely that aspartame will to take the maximum hit, considering the various consumer worries that are clouding the aspartame market.
In addition, stevia is expected to be used as a part substitute for sugar and also used in combination with other artificial sweeteners in the emerging phase of lifecycle.
Existing and Target Applications
Considering their sweetening capacity and the favourable physical and functional attributes, natural stevia-based sweeteners are compatible for use in a wide array of foods, beverages, and dietary supplements. Even so, significant flavour technology support is needed to produce an acceptable or superior tasting final product with stevia. This calls for an end user with technical know-how or a supplier who has the technical expertise to produce a customised tasteful product.
Considering the history of usage pattern, within two to three years of post-European regulatory approval, beverage is expected to rule as the main application for stevia sweeteners use.
Others will follow, including traditional foods (such as dairy, bakery, confectionery and others); table-top sweeteners; as a nutraceutical in functional foods, functional beverages and supplements with added health benefits; personal care (such as toothpastes); and as an active pharma ingredient or excipient in pharmaceutical applications.
The second part of Sneha Pasricha's commetary on stevia's potential - Stevia: Succeeding in an emerging market - will be published on FoodNavigator.com tomorrow.