The report, The Global Market for Intense Sweeteners, says that stevia-derived sweeteners are driving the move away from additives and ingredients that are perceived as artificial, and it already accounts for 14 percent of the intense sweeteners market, up from just one percent in 2007.
“Stevia represents one of the most dynamic sectors within the global intense sweeteners market by far, with sales having risen dramatically since the middle of the last decade as a result of increasing uptake within the US food and drinks industry,” the report said.
Last year, the global market value of stevia-derived sweeteners reached an estimated $180m, Leatherhead said, compared to $10m in 2005. Most of this increase came from the United States, which now accounts for 85 percent of the stevia market, just 16 months after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its first letters of no objection that the stevia-derived sweetener Reb A was generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for use in foods and drinks. Stevia now accounts for about 21 percent of the total US intense sweeteners market.
But despite this rapid growth, the market research organization said there is still plenty of scope for demand to increase even further.
“This is chiefly because usage is limited to a few product sectors such as table-top sweeteners, whilst consumer awareness of stevia remains limited in places such as the US,” the report said.
And stevia suppliers themselves have acknowledged that building consumer awareness is crucial to future success.
Leatherhead said consumer research has shown that up to 70 percent of Americans have not heard of stevia, and that 60 percent are not interested in trying it.
Other challenges include the elimination of aftertaste, meaning that blending with other sweeteners is likely to increase; and ensuring a stable supply, considering that the sweetener is plant-derived so flavor can vary according to geographic location, the organization said.
In addition, the price of stevia-derived sweeteners is prohibitively high for many manufacturers at present, with the cost of Reb A in the region of $300 a kilogram, but this is likely to come down over time.
“The high price of stevia is mainly attributed to the sector’s early stage of development, with prices expected to fall once more manufacturers invest in extraction, processing and refining capabilities,” Leatherhead said.