Our next stop was at the booth of Oregon-based Steviva Ingredients, which sells a wide variety of stevia ingredients and also has a line of branded consumer products sold primarily through the natural channel.
Here's what we learned from president Thom King, who says his sales have been growing exponentially over the past three years:
The stevia supply market is still evolving: "I've been doing this since 1999 and I've seen a lot of companies come and go. Every year there are more players, but others disappear."
Be wary of suppliers that claim to have totally cracked the aftertaste issue: "All high intensity sweeteners have an aftertaste."
F&B manufacturers want 'plug & play' stevia products: "Manufacturers, especially smaller ones, want plug & play solutions, something that they can just drop in to replace high fructose corn syrup 42, for example, so we have Nectevia [a stevia-fortified organic agave syrup]. For baked goods or dairy where people are looking for calorie reductions we have Fructevia [crystalline fructose, fructooligosaccharides, stevia extract and magnesium carbonate], and for meal replacement bars and some beverages, we have a zero calorie Steviva blend [erythritol and stevia extract]. But we can alsocome up with customized solutions for specific customers and turn them around very quickly."
The big guys are geared up for big customers: "If you go to a huge company like Cargill, they do have a huge amount of applications expertise, but you won't get your hand held through the R&D process if you are not ordering container loads of product."
Experience counts in the stevia business: "The fact that we've been working with stevia for so long means we have a broader understanding of its functionality."
Price is still an issue: "We're growing really strongly, but there is still a price point issue. It's still a lot cheaper to use aspartame or sucralose, so I don't see natural replacing artificial completely any time soon."