Following the European Union approval of stevia in food and drink applications, there has been a surge of new product innovations in the EU to capitalize on consumer demand. In fact, according to latest research by Mintel on natural sweeteners, the widespread rollout of products containing stevia resulted in a 400% increase in launches globally between 2008–2012 and 158% between 2011–2012.
With the only year-on-year increases in new product development, Europe is experiencing phenomenal growth and is now a key market driver for stevia. It accounted for a quarter (25%) of global new product launches containing stevia in 2012, up from just 4% in 2011. Meanwhile, Asia accounted for half (50%) of all introductions in 2012, but declined from 63% in 2011. North America accounted for 15% of new product launches in 2012, down from 21% in 2011 and Latin America accounted for 9% in 2012, down from 11% in 2011.
Recent growth has been fueled by dynamic product innovation across a range of categories. Some of the most widespread use of stevia is in the non-alcoholic beverages category, which accounted for 31% of the global products launched containing stevia in 2012 and the snacks category, accounting for 26%. Meanwhile, 13% of global product launches containing stevia were natural table-top sweetener alternatives to sugar and 7% were dairy products.
Increased concern over obesity levels could also present an opportunity for stevia in low-sugar and low-calorie food and drink, as it appears that sugar substitutes are still struggling against traditional sugar, especially when it comes to taste. In the United States, more than half (57%) of consumers believe that natural sweeteners such as sugar or honey taste better than low-calorie alternatives and 44% agree that sweeteners leave an aftertaste or simply taste bad. Sugar substitutes also appear to be limited to sweetening drinks such as tea or coffee rather than wider use in baking, as some 44% of U.S. consumers consider them too expensive to bake with and just 33% believe they are easy to use in cooking.
There are also positive signs for the future of the sector and the opportunity to respond to underlying consumer demand for simple, natural products. Indeed, as Mintel’s research shows, 55% of consumers in Germany, 47% in the U.K., 45% in France, 26% in Italy, and 22% in Spain would be willing to try products made using alternative sweeteners. Moreover, 56% of consumers in the U.K. are interested in trying sweets with natural sugar alternatives.
“Looking to 2013, if Europe can learn from the U.S., it should see continued steady growth in the stevia market. To ensure market growth can be sustained over the long term, continued new product development is needed to improve taste and versatility combined with high levels of marketing support to drive consumer education and trial,” said David Turner, Global Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel.