China leads world in demand for artificial sweeteners

August 20, 2014

Although new, natural sweeteners like stevia extract are gaining ground, consumption growth for high-intensity sweeteners as a class has slowed to near zero in North America and Europe, due, in part, to the decline in soft drink consumption in these regions. In contrast, demand for the entire range of high-intensity sweeteners remains strong in South America and Asia, according to new research from IHS. China is the world’s largest source of high-intensity sweeteners, accounting for more than 70% of world production in 2013. Indonesia was a distant second, followed by the United States and Western Europe.

“Global consumption of high-intensity sweeteners for all applications totaled more than 139,000 metric tons in 2013,” said Marifaith Hackett, Director of Specialty Chemicals Research at IHS Chemical and principal author of the IHS Chemical Economics Handbook—High Intensity Sweeteners Report. “Global consumption of these products for sweetener applications totaled more than 129,000 metric tons in 2013, equivalent (in terms of sweetness) to more than 18 million metric tons of table sugar. The value of the market for high-intensity sweeteners in sweetening applications was more than $2 billion dollars in 2013.”

The use of high-intensity sweeteners by food producers can also be impacted by regulations, and an increasing number of national and local governments concerned about the rise of obesity and diabetes are considering taxes on high-calorie soft drinks and processed foods. Notably, the IHS report stated, the Mexican government recently enacted a tax on high-calorie processed foods, including carbonated soft drinks.

In North America and Europe, consumption of soft drinks—a major end use for high-intensity sweeteners—is declining. As a result, demand for some artificial sweeteners is flat or decreasing in these regions. According to the IHS report, the growing concern over health and nutrition is driving increased interest in natural sweeteners. Stevia extract, which is derived from the leaves of the stevia shrub and grows naturally in South America, has been the primary beneficiary of consumer interest, followed by monk fruit extract. Monk fruit, a green melon-like fruit from China, is a relative of watermelons and pumpkins.

“Last year, global demand for stevia extract was slightly more than 2,000 metric tons, which is quite small when compared to demand for some of the more established sweeteners such as saccharin or cyclamate,” said Hackett. “But demand is growing in both developed and developing markets, and by 2018, we expect demand for stevia extract to reach 3,000–4,000 metric tons annually.”

Press release