Since its regulatory approval in Europe in November 2011, drinks makers have made big advances in improving the taste of the sweetener, which previously had been associated with a bitter or metallic aftertaste. In the past two years, about 1,200 stevia-sweetened products have been launched across Europe, with most drink companies targeting a 30% sugar reduction. However, stevia companies claim that new formulations and blends allow a 50% reduction with much less taste impact than was previously possible.
In a new report, Euromonitor International says the sweetener’s natural sourcing means it holds strong appeal for the mass market, including in products for children. Senior health and wellness analyst Diana Cowland said companies would benefit from targeting countries in which reduced sugar drinks are already widely consumed, such as Argentina, Belgium, the UK, Norway and the United States.
The return of ‘added value’
“Previous to stevia’s approval as a high intensity sweetener, better for you products were considered artificial,” the report says. “The natural sourcing of the sweetener means added value has returned to reduced sugar products.”
It suggests four distinct platforms in which stevia can add value to soft drinks: As a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners; as a mass market ingredient, now that initial taste concerns have receded; as a natural way to lower sugar in products for children; and as a weight management ingredient.
Weight management potential?
Writing on the market research organisation’s blog, Cowland suggested that reducing sugar in soft drinks could affect body mass index – but probably not enough to reverse current overweight and obesity trends on a population-wide basis.
“As more food and drink products containing stevia are launched globally, the question of whether it can have an impact on the growing prevalence of overweight and obese populations has to be raised,” she wrote, adding that if full sugar soft drinks were reformulated to contain 30% fewer calories, this could equate to a reduction of more than 6,000 calories a year for a person drinking two cans a day – potentially equivalent to about 0.77 kg in body weight.
“While this reduction alone would not lead to curbing the overweight population, the beverages would be an easy addition to a diet of someone wishing to lose a few kilos and would not require a change in dietary habits,” she wrote.
The Coca-Cola Company has been among the first multinational companies to reformulate its regular soft drinks with stevia extracts to reduce sugar, including a 30% calorie reduction in Sprite in Europe.