ASIA – The use of stevia as a substitute for sugar in snacks, juice drinks, soft drinks, dairy and confectionery has increased significantly, marked with a 10% increase in stevia leaf sweetener launches in the year 2017, report PureCircle, manufacturer of stevia sweeteners for the beverage and food industry.

According to data by Mintel Group Ltd, a market research firm, launches of beverage products containing stevia grew 11% while those of food products grew 10% from 2016 to 2017.

Stevia additive, approved for food use by the European Union in 2011, is receiving wide application in food and beverages as an alternative for sugar, supplementing other artificial sweeteners such as cyclamate and saccharin.

Stevia features in food and beverage products designed for kids to provide no- or reduced-calories, with launches in this category alone rising 16% in 2017.

In November 2017, the beverage giant, Coca-Cola company announced that it was set to launch a soda, 100% sweetened by stevia with a flavor profile closer to sugar without a bitter aftertaste.

The company debuted new flavors and a new design for its Coke Diet brand plus a series of planned product launches and flavor innovations for the UK market that is, Coca-Cola Zero sugar peach flavor and a sugar-free sprite lemon lime and cucumber variant.

Kraft Heinz launched a reduced-sugar baked beans line in the UK, using natural sweetener stevia.

Other companies launching products with stevia leaf sweetener include Danone, Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever, Grupo Bimbo, Calbee Foods, Seven & ‘i Holdings among others.

Beverage and food product launches with stevia are happening mainly in Asia/Pacific and Europe, followed by Latin America, North America and Middle East/Africa.

Stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener made from a plant, giving it preference over aspartame, sucralose and acesulfame potassium in foods and beverages.

Food and beverage manufacturers are increasingly opting for stevia in their formulations as consumers, health experts and governments continue to advocate for alternatives that help reduce obesity and diabetes.

The European market for stevia was estimated at 100-150 tonnes in 2014, according to ResearchAndMarkets, and is expected to grow driven by concerns for diabetes and obesity concerns for a healthier population.

Although the industry is trending with the launch of new products, growing awareness towards health, self-regulations by companies and rising demand for non-caloric sweeteners, growth is hindered by high prices, stringent regulations along with various health hazards associated with high sweetened food products.