Sugar reduction special

Hail Stevia! The natural sweetener could be the perfect solution to ‘Sugarflation’ as well as a healthier option

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Stevia, a popular natural sugar alternative, has emerged as a promising solution for sugar reduction. Pic: GettyImages
Stevia, a popular natural sugar alternative, has emerged as a promising solution for sugar reduction. Pic: GettyImages

Related tags Stevia Sugar sugar reduction HOWTIAN

In the past 12 months, global sugar prices have risen 41.9% and to describe this sharp inflation in sugar prices, analysts have coined a new term: ‘sugarflation’. The current market volatility has also had a knock-on effect for natural alternatives with demand boosting stevia as a solution not just for sugar reduction targets, but cost savings, too.

Howtian, a global leader in producing and supplying premium quality natural sweeteners, said in short, the food & beverage industry is exploring more-natural, less-sugary pastures for its consumers, leading to a sugar-replacement revolution. In these challenging times, stevia, a popular natural sugar alternative, has emerged as a promising solution.

For confectionery applications, bulking back is required when reducing sugar or else the confection would also reduce in size.

"Our DGS series offer a direct 1 to 1 replacement of sugar with stevia as the high potency sweetener and bulking provided by allulose, fibre and/or erythritol​," said Hank Wang, Technical Director, at Howtian.

"These bulking agents also provide the upfront sweetness that sugar provides so are a great replacement for many applications. We are continually evaluating alternative bulking agents and sweeteners, such as the protein-based sweeteners and may introduce them to our product portfolio if the cost-in-use, quality and regulatory meet our company standards for commercial viability."

To help address the economic uncertainty and volatility, Howitan recently announced another significant price reduction for its popular SoPur Stevia Reb A 97 for industry and manufacturing customers.

Wang said: "Prices for Reb A have come down this year. Higher sugar prices along with lower stevia prices is a great enticement for CPG’s to partially replace sugar with Reb A​.

"For example in many beverages, it is fairly easy to replace about 50% of the sugar with Reb A and save a significant amount of the sugar spend without affecting quality. Other applications where bulking isn’t required can also reduce sugar by 25-50% and save a good chunk of money. Reducing sugar in these instances also reduces calories and carbohydrates at the same time for a healthier nutrient facts panel​."

Sugarflation 

Nidhi Jain, associate specialist at The Smart Cube, said this sugarflation has come off the back of declining production figures in key producing nations such as India, Thailand, and China during the 2022-2023 sugar season, leading to a steep rise in sugar prices over the past few months – and prices could rise to an even greater extent during H2 2023.

Alongside these low levels of output, a low beet harvest in the European Union (EU) has exacerbated the situation. The cold and wet weather during spring in EU nations such as France, Germany, and Poland, which account for roughly 30% of the global beet production, has only added to the ongoing sugar shortage. What’s more, in May 2023, India – the second-largest sugar producer globally – banned sugar exports to ensure domestic availability. This ban further supported the upward trend in sugar prices.

For the remainder of the calendar year, sugar output is set to be significantly impacted by variable weather conditions. This is largely being led by the El Niño phenomenon. The event affects weather patterns and ocean temperatures and is known for bringing heavy rainfall to some regions, such as Latin America and the southern US, while causing warmer weather and droughts in others, like Australia and south Asia​,” said Jain.

Additionally, sugar prices are expected to surge in H2 2023 due to an anticipated rise in demand from key sugar-consuming countries. For instance, since April 2023, sugar prices in India have increased by more than 6% and they are expected to continue to rise as demand from large consumer nations increases during the peak of summer, along with an anticipated decline in production.

“The impact of this is already being felt across a number of different industries. For example, the wider confectionary industry is under increasing amounts of pressure to tackle the crisis. Small players, such as bakeries and hotels, who depend on sugar as a crucial ingredient for their products, are reportedly suffering diminishing profit margins as they battle to absorb the increasing prices without passing them on to their clients, unlike large players​.”

Hail Stevia!

Stevia extract is extracted from natural plant sources and is a good choice for companies that want to avoid artificial sweeteners. Stevia dominates the natural high-potency sweeteners space with about 85% of the 2022 new product launches according to Mintel and Innova.

"While we are still performing our full sustainability studies, we see that our water and energy usages in processing are less than that of our competitors for extracted stevia. We have also found that using our seedlings rather than using seeds, increasing plant survivability by up to 20%,​" said Wang.

Howtian’s commitment to innovation and customers’ needs is expected to boost the continued growth and success of the sugar replacement revolution in these turbulent times. It said that throughout the years, the company has seen a wealth of success in transitioning popular products to delicious, cost-effective alternatives.

The new and improved pricing will only accelerate the pace of these sugar reduction success stories.

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