Presenting on stevia usage in baked goods and snacks during FoodNavigator’s Bakery Formulation 2012 virtual conference, Tom Vierhile, Datamonitor innovation insights director, reckons the attributes and nutrient profile of sweeteners such as coconut palm sugar or monk fruit might could make them more applicable to bakery and snack reformulation than stevia.
“The industry is going to see a lot more competitiveness being introduced into the natural sweetener category in the next two years,” added the food industry specialist.
Limitations of stevia usage in baked goods
There are some challenges in terms of using stevia in bakery. While it is heat stable, Vierhile reports anecdotal evidence that the sweetener might not be heat tolerant and may gel and high temperatures.
It also needs to be combined with a bulking agent such as erythritol or inulin as it does not have the bulking attributes of sugar, and these agents can add their own calories, notes the analyst.
Stevia, he said, also lacks the distinct caramelizing and browning properties of sugar and makes it difficult to determine when a product is ‘done’.
Vierhile said that potato chips (crisps) are in the top seven of food and beverage categories using the natural sweetener as an ingredient in the past two years. Cereal bars, cookies (sweet biscuits), and cakes and pastries fell just outside of the top seven foods using stevia in that period, he added.
But evaluating stevia usage trends worldwide, Vierhile notes it use in processed snacks such as tortilla chips and cheese puffs, as well as savoury snacks like pretzels and fruit snacks, and bread and rolls. “The bakery and snack segment accounts for nearly 50% of NPD food launches incorporating stevia over 2010-2011,” added the innovation expert.
While stevia has been approved for use in categories from beverages to chocolate in the EU since late last year, applications were withdrawn for its use in 15 food groups including cereal based desserts, biscuits and baked goods on concerns over Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels for the stevia.
“This situation might change in the next two years with those categories likely to be reinserted by the EU authorities once they get a handle on real consumption levels and a realistic ADI for stevia in that market using real-time data,” said Vierhile.
He stressed that it will be up to EU-based manufacturers and suppliers to push for approval for stevia’s use in those categories going forward.
Stealth use of stevia
Examples of baked goods launches globally since 2010 is Arnold Artisan Ovens Flatbread, which was launched in the US in January 2011.
But Vierhile notes that often in the baked goods and snack category, stevia is a quiet addition to the ingredients list and is not blatantly flagged up on the front-of-pack. “In the case of the Arnold product, the sweetener is not mentioned prominently on the packaging, and is next to last on the ingredient list,” said the analyst.
“Stealth use of stevia is likely to continue until awareness rises,” he predicts, citing another product launch in the US with meal bars incorporating the sweetener and citing ‘no added artificial flavours or sweeteners’ on the front of pack but again only including reference to the stevia in the ingredients list.
Wonder SmartWheat bread was launched in March 2011 in the US incorporating the sweetener and while it is flagged as having ‘no high fructose corn syrup’ there is no prominent mention of the stevia ingredient, continued Vierhile.
But the analyst notes promising developments in markets beyond the US. The use of stevia as a sweetener is helping drive flavour innovation in potato chips in Japan, he added. The brandCalbee Paripari Variation My Potato, Mocha Cocoapotato chips feature a sweet coffee flavour, and have a blend of sweeteners including sugar, acesulfame potassium and stevia.
The most recent new product launches in food using stevia show potential for its use in other snack categories, he continues. A new brand -Terrium Cookiesin Chile - incorporate the sweetener, are sugar-free and come in eclectic flavours like Chia Seeds Omega 3 and Quinoa Cinnamon, with inulin added as a bulking agent.
Snack bars offer innovation possibilities: “New in the US, Balance Nimble Bar has Truvia rebiana, and offers nutrients for healthy skin, bones and digestive health,” notes the Datamonitor innovation expert.
The Japanese market has also recently seen a better for you donut including stevia and rice-cakes could prove fertile ground for the sweetener, said Vierhile.
He said that stevia is being used in breakfast cereals, but not yet by a multinational.
In terms of growth potential for stevia in snacks and baked goods, the analyst cites Robert McQuate, CEO of US consultancy GRAS Associates, who said: “I think you will see a lot more products since it takes time to fill the pipeline. There is an art involved in creating new products with stevia, but baked goods can work well since they can be very forgiving of limited flavour variability.”
Jason Hecker, vice‐president of global marketing and Innovation at PureCircle, reckons products with less sugar to begin with - breads, baked snacks or breakfast cereals – may be the most promising categories for stevia as you can “achieve lower sugar levels without altering the product’s structural qualities as much as you would have to for a sweet cookie or cake.”