In the past ten years, product launches featuring stevia have climbed exponentially across categories and regions – reaching a compound annual growth rate of 21.9% between 2011 and 2021, according to data from Innova. While most of these products have occurred in North America, Asia and Western Europe, new product launches featuring the sweetener have also increased more than 35% in Eastern Europe, Australasia, Africa and the Middle East in the same time period, according to the International Stevia Association.
Many of these launches, from beverages to snacks and confections to baked goods and cereals have blossomed in part thanks to new technologies that led to the development of next generation steviol glycosides that deliver a cleaner taste more akin to sugar, such as Reb M and Reb D, the association notes.
Despite rising demand, a significant challenge for industry is that many newer steviol glycosides are found in smaller amounts in the stevia leaf – restricting supply and hindering innovation.
With Codex Alimentarius’ adoption of a Framework for Steviol Glycosides, suppliers can now use four different technologies – stevia leaf extract, steviol gylcosides from bioconversion, steviol glycosides from fermentation and glucosylated steviol glycosides – to produce newer, more popular steviol glycosides without submitting new dossiers as long as they meet the criteria and specifications of the technologies that ensure the highest level of safety, purity and quality, the International Stevia Association explains.
“By enabling the scalable and sustainable production of those steviol glycosides – such as Reb M and Reb D – which have a better sensory profile and a cleaner taste, but are found in smaller amounts of the stevia leave – the new technologies pave the way for reaching greater calorie reduction (up to zero calories) in final consumer products,” Maria Teresa Scardigli, executive director for the International Stevia Council, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“This framework broadens the options on the use of stevia and gives the flexibility of using stevia from different production technologies depending on the formulations,” she added.
More players can more easily enter the game
While this is good news for the entire industry, it is particularly good for smaller and medium manufacturers looking to meet consumer demand for reduce- and sugar-free products that don’t sacrifice taste.
“Many multinational companies embrace stevia in their product portfolio. Because of the new framework, it is expected that small and medium manufacturers have more opportunities to launch new products with stevia. These may be niche products – meaning they might have on a minimal impact on the overall growth of the stevia market – but will have a significant impact on consumer awareness and acceptance of stevia,” Scardigli explained.
“This will help to promote the true potential of stevia and position stevia as the sweetener of choice to address calorie reduction in food and beverage products,” she added.
For example, last year a significant portion of launches with stevia were in the sports nutrition category, which is a growing but targeted segment. Other categories with potential broader reach in which stevia is prominently featured in product launches include soft drinks, confectionary, hot drinks, desserts, ice cream and dairy, according to the trade group.
‘Stevia continues to be a great ally to support nutrition’
To this end, Scardigli suggested the future for stevia – and meeting consumer demand for reduced-sugar and -calorie products – is bright.
“As we look forward to 2022 and beyond, we are confident that our organization will continue to make strides in terms of our vision and strategic imperatives. Our mission is to improve the diets and health of people globally by addressing sugars and calories in food, to support stevia and steviol glycosides as safe and trusted sweeteners and to promote its wide variety of uses as a sweetener,” she said, adding, “Stevia continues to be a great ally to support nutrition and health by controlling calorie intake.”