Consumer demand for low-calorie, yet naturally sweetened products is leading to a new genre of stevia-containing foods and beverages.
Zero-calorie sweeteners like Truvia and PureVia are making a statement, as both are positioned as natural alternatives to aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda) and saccharine (Sweet'N Low).
Research firm Mintel forecasts that U.S. sales of both tabletop stevia sweeteners and foods, beverages and other products that contain stevia could exceed $2 billion by the end of 2011.
At Hy-Vee's Fleur Drive location in Des Moines, Iowa, store dietitian Anne Cundiff samples the Truvia and PureVia packets so that shoppers can taste for themselves what the new brands are all about.
Cundiff favors these stevia-based sugar substitutes over artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose because they are made from parts of the stevia plant, native to Paraguay.
“I like stevia because it's a plant-based product,” Cundiff told SN. “It comes from a natural source.”
Since companies process stevia differently, not all types of stevia-containing products taste the same. So she recommends that shoppers try different brands for the taste they want.
“Some brands taste better than others,” she noted.
Stevia is marketed both as a tabletop sweetener, and an ingredient in food and beverages. About 221 stevia-containing products were introduced in the U.S. last year, up from 179 in 2008, according to Mintel.
Recent product introductions containing stevia include Rainbow Light Protein Energizer Açai Berry Blast Vegan Shake, Nature's Bounty Stevia Powder, Fructevia All Natural Sugar Substitute, Modjo Life Natural Energy Shot and Blue Sky Free Carbonated Beverage, according to Mintel.
Such introductions come at a time when consumer awareness about stevia is strong.
More than one-third (36%) of respondents to a Mintel survey said they are interested in trying stevia, or have tried it already, while another one in five (20%) have heard of it, but haven't tried it. Meanwhile, 16% of respondents believe stevia is safer than artificial sweeteners.
SWEET AS STEVIA
Both the Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo market products containing rebaudioside A, or Reb-A, a high-purity extract that comes from what's described as the best-tasting part of the stevia leaf.
Cargill, in partnership with Coca-Cola, markets it under the brand name Truvia.
Coca-Cola uses Truvia in Sprite Green, which has 50 calories and 5% lemon juice per 8.5-ounce serving; Odwalla Limeade and Lemonade; Minute Maid Pomegranate Tea; and Glaceau Vitaminwater 10 and the soon-to-be released Glaceau Vitaminwater Zero.
Truvia is also an ingredient in Breyers' new YoCrunch 100 Calorie yogurt and Kraft's Nature's Splash powdered drinks.
More than 100 food and beverage companies are actively partnering with Cargill to develop new products with Truvia with multiple launches in 2010, according to Cargill.
Pepsi and Whole Earth Sweetener Co. call their version PureVia, which is used in SoBe Lifewater and Trop 50, an orange juice with 50% less sugar and calories. Whole Earth is a wholly owned subsidiary of Merisant Co., maker of Equal.
In addition to PureVia and Truvia, two other stevia-based sweeteners — Stevia Extract in the Raw and Sweetleaf Stevia Plus — are in the Top 10 tabletop sugar substitute brands, based on dollar sales in food stores.
The stevia brands join the sugar substitute market with category leader Splenda from McNeil Nutritionals. Although it is not marketed as natural, it is advertised as a healthy and safe alternative to sugar because it is made through a process that starts with sugar and converts it to a no-calorie, non-carbohydrate sweetener.
Along with its flagship tabletop sweetener, Splenda is available in value-added products. They include Splenda with fiber (one gram of fiber per packet); Splenda Flavor Accents, raspberry and other flavors that can be added to water; and French vanilla, mocha and other Splenda flavor accents for coffee.
“The demand for alternative sweeteners is out there, and manufacturers are innovating in response to it,” said Barbara Ruhs, registered dietitian for Bashas', Chandler, Ariz.
Ruhs suggests sugar substitutes to people who may consume too much sugar due to drinking multiple cups of coffee or tea.
But her advice is much different to a person who only adds sugar to, say, one or two cups of coffee on a daily basis.
“It's no point to use a sugar substitute in that case because you're only going to save about 30 calories or so,” she said.
Ruhs favors stevia because it comes from a natural plant source.
“The fact that it's natural makes it attractive, “ she said.
But Ruhs said non-stevia sugar substitutes can also fill a consumer need because they let people enjoy products they otherwise would have to avoid.
She warns, however, that they should be consumed in moderation.
“The demand is there for sweet products that are low in calories,” she said.
More than one-third of respondents to a Mintel poll have already tried or want to try stevia-containing products.
|36%||are interested in trying stevia, or have tried it already.|
|20%||have heard of stevia, but haven't tried it.|
|16%||believe stevia is safer than artificial sweeteners.|
|15%||are interested in trying stevia, but have never heard of it.|
|11%||have used stevia by adding to foods/beverages or purchasing foods and beverages that contain it.|
|10%||are interested in trying stevia, and have heard of it.|
SOURCE: Mintel Internet survey of 2,000 adults, May-June, 2009
PRODUCTS WITH A PURPOSE
About 221 stevia-containing products were introduced in the U.S. last year, up from 179 in 2008, according to research firm Mintel.
Following are some of the more recent introductions:
- Rainbow Light Protein Energizer Açai Berry Blast Vegan Shake
- Nature's Bounty Stevia Powder
- Fructevia All Natural Sugar Substitute
- Modjo Life Natural Energy Shot
- Blue Sky Free Carbonated Beverage
- Go Fast! Coconut Water Energy Drink