Monk fruit, also known as luo han guo, produces a sweetener about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is native to Southeast Asia, where the world’s largest monk fruit extract supplier, New Zealand-based BioVittoria, sources the bulk of the fruit it uses for its extraction process. The company entered a global marketing agreement with Tate & Lyle for the ingredient about a year ago, raising monk fruit’s profile on the international stage – and its mainstream market viability.
Ingredients analyst at Euromonitor International Lauren Bandy says that although monk fruit extract is currently a premium ingredient, it has the potential to compete with stevia in the natural sweeteners space, as consumers continue to look for natural alternatives to high intensity, zero-calorie sweeteners.
“With no bitter aftertaste, it is much more versatile than stevia and can be used in a wide range of food and beverage products,” Bandy said. “But what monk fruit extract cannot do for the foreseeable future is compete with stevia's numerous multi-million dollar marketing campaigns which have made it so commercially successful.”
Monk fruit extracts are currently being used for the most part in new product development, rather than to replace artificial sweeteners in existing products, and their use is largely focused on small brands. However, there are some exceptions, including Kashi, which uses monk fruit extract to sweeten its Honey SunShine breakfast cereal, and SoDelicious products, which include almond and coconut milk drinks.
According to BioVittoria, its extracts are used in about 30 to 40 products currently on the market in the United States.
“While it has strong potential, monk fruit extract is currently twice the price of stevia,” said Bandy.
She claims that monk fruit only has the potential to compete with stevia if its price falls, but with the established success of the ‘all-natural’ trend, particularly in the United States, monk fruit extract eventually could be a significant alternative.
“For now, however, monk fruit extract remains a premium ingredient,” she said.