Monk Fruit Corp has contracts with growers to produce “at least twice as much fruit as its nearest competitor this year”, said the firm, which struck a deal with Tate & Lyle in 2010 to be its exclusive supplier of powdered monk fruit extract, a natural sweetener 150-200 times sweeter than sugar that is gaining traction as manufacturers come under increasing pressure to reduce sugar and keep labels clean.
US food and beverage product launches with monk fruit extract nearly doubled in the first four months of 2015* compared to the same period in 2014, general manager sales and marketing David Thorrold told FoodNavigator-USA on Wednesday.
"It's now in everything from Chobani Simply 100 and Starbucks Doubleshot coffee & protein, to brands such as Skinny Cow, Arctic Zero, Zevia, and Califia Farms."
Most of launches are about sugar reduction, not complete replacement
And with pressure to reduce added sugar intensifying in the wake of FDA proposals to list it on food labels and the recent report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, demand is only going to increase, added Thorrold.
“We’re seeing interest in every kind of application, from beverages and dairy to nutrition bars. Most of the launches are about sugar reduction, not replacement, although some companies are also using it in zero calorie products [such as Zevia, which combines stevia, monk fruit and erythritol]; but I’d say the strongest interest is in sugar reduction.”
Monk fruit has a different sensory profile to stevia
He added: “Monk fruit has a different sensory profile to stevia, and it works really well in some applications [where stevia doesn’t]; for example, there’s been a lot formulation work recently on protein bars and shakes where monk fruit’s taste profile works particularly well. There’s also a lot of activity in dairy, protein-based dairy beverages, nut milks, and baked goods.
“We’re also launching a very clean-tasting monk fruit juice concentrate ahead of the IFT show in Chicago that works really well in juice-based products."
Monk fruit has a premium positioning in relation to stevia
But if monk fruit tastes so great, why isn’t everyone using it?
Price is something of a barrier – although economics of scale have meant prices have come down in recent years, he said.
“Monk fruit will likely retain its premium positioning in relation to stevia, but I think it could be as big as the stevia leaf market in future as the stevia market bifurcates into two segments: stevia extracted from the leaf and synthesized stevia products [produced via fermentation and other methods].”
Organic monk fruit: We’ve got a project running at the moment as the demand is definitely there
Monk Fruit Corp is also working on developing organic monk fruit products, although there would be a price premium attached as yields would likely be lower and small changes may be needed at the processing stage, he said. “We’ve got a project running at the moment as the demand is definitely there.”
In the short to medium term, the US represents the biggest market opportunity for monk fruit, he said. However, longer term Europe, Latin America and China represent big growth opportunities, although much will depend on how quickly regulatory approvals can be secured.
According to Thorrold: “We got approval in the US in 2010, and we started to see launches pick up from around 2012 and then grow steadily, as the new product development lifecycle can be pretty long for larger companies in particular. But there is a steady stream of new launches now.”
From a supply perspective, meanwhile, the monk fruit sweeteners market is far less fragmented than the stevia supply market, with only a handful of players in a market dominated by Monk Fruit Corp, he claimed.
Investment has also been more gradual, he said, whereas the stevia market saw a lot of volatility in the early days with key players investing significantly in capacity on the back of market projections that turned out to be wildly inflated.
“We haven’t had a situation with monk fruit where people have put in a large amount of capacity that has just sat there idling away.”
While other players such as GLG and Layn have both invested in monk fruit processing capacity, Monk Fruit Corp is solely dedicated to monk fruit, and was the first to invent and commercialize tissue culture technology for seedlings that have been key to the development of a large-scale monk fruit supply chain, he claimed.
*According to Innova data