Special Report: Stevia Leads the Way in Natural Sweeteners Space

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28 Feb 2017 --- Sugar will continue to come under fire throughout 2017, although it remains the key ingredient delivering the sweetness and great taste that consumers are looking for. “Sweeter Balance” was tipped as trend 3 for 2017 by Innova Market Insights. The quest to combine taste and health is driving NPD, as the industry faces the challenge of balancing public demand to reduce added sugars and create indulgent experiences, while at the same time presenting clean label products.

One of the most talked about issues of the past year has been the highly debated sugar tax, spurring the need for alternative and natural sweeteners and seeing promising innovation in beverages. The debate around sugar reduction is entering a new stage, with sugar taxes becoming a reality in a number of countries in 2017 and 2018 and reformulation efforts following suit.

The trend of natural ingredients in beverages, such as stevia in particular, has been a huge driver of innovation and trends suggest this is unlikely to slow down. The rise of ingredients like stevia presents its own challenges, as there is a paradox in going clean label with sweeteners and it is about finding the right sweet balance. Manufacturers are being forced to ask themselves who their consumer is: the diet cola drinker, the full sugar fan or the natural purist? FoodIngredientsFirst takes a look at stevia innovations and what is trending in the sweeteners space. 

Innova Market Insights have noting that “industry is posed with a challenge of balancing the public demand to reduce added sugars, create indulgent experiences and at the same time present clean label products.” Alternative sweeteners are part of the solution to finding a sweet balance, which can include calorie containing alternatives to regular white sugar, such as agave, but even “brown” and “golden” sugar.

According to Innova Market Insights data, 6% of soft drink launches tracked in 2016 had "stevia" listed on pack as an ingredient. 44% of products tracked in 2016 with stevia listed as an ingredient also featured a low calorie claim. This is a 4% increase in new product launches listed from the year previous. In 2016, 24% of all stevia product launches were soft drinks.

Additionally, 63% of new product launches with stevia features one or more clean label related claims (2015).

Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights notes the key drivers for sugar reduction in new product innovation will impact specifically the confectionery and snacking categories. Speaking during a webinar last month, Williams said: “There is pressure coming from governments and consumer groups, and so the scientific community is responding to that - there is a lot of pressure on everyone to reduce the overall amount of sugar in food and beverages.” 

“If we look at claims around this area, for the past few years we saw very few products that had low sugar claims and now the fastest growing claim of sugar claims is low sugar. We are seeing a lot of activity that space.”

“Sugar free is now driven by artificial sweeteners and natural sweeteners such as stevia.” 

“We looked at confectionery launches with alternative sugars, such as honey or fruit syrups and what we found was using 2012 as our base, the use of alternative sugars for 2016 was 180 percent higher compared to what it was in 2012.”

Williams adds: “Consumers are looking for alternative ingredient that they perceive to be healthier, like honey or brown sugar in comparison to white sugar.”

Growth in Stevia Launches 
There has been a tremendous amount of movement in the stevia space, over the past 12 months. With fierce competition on the sweeteners space, stevia is giving many other players a run for their money.  

Late last year, Ingredion Incorporated entered into an agreement with SweeGen Inc., a company dedicated to the Click to Enlargedevelopment and manufacture of stevia-based sweeteners, to be SweeGen's exclusive global distributor of the company's novel, nature-based stevia sweeteners in all markets except China. 

“SweeGen's nature-based products, made from stevia leaf extract, represent the next generation of stevia sweeteners. Along with our current sweetener offerings, these great-tasting sweeteners give us even more options to help our customers develop on-trend products that meet consumer demands for healthier foods and beverages with less sugar,” said Anthony DeLio, Ingredion's chief innovation officer.  

SweeGen recently announced the successful commercialization of its Bestevia Reb-M, the company’s non-caloric and high purity stevia sweetener with an unparalleled sweet taste, which is comparable to regular table sugar. 

According to Steven Chen, President of SweeGen, Bestevia Reb-M has “great solubility and amazing taste”. 

He told FoodIngredientsFirst: “Consumers mainly focus on taste. People want to reduce calories but at the same time have great taste. Bestevia Reb-M enables the consumer to cut calories in their drinks and at the same time gives them a sugar-like taste.” 

Customer feedback on the product has been exceptional so far, which includes a major global beverage company that recently used SweeGen’s Bestevia Reb-M in its large-scale trial for one of its bottled beverages.

In November last year, PureCircle announced the launch of Sigma-Beverage, its breakthrough stevia ingredient. Sigma-Beverage (Sigma-B) performs similarly to sugar at deep calorie reductions so formulators can create beverage solutions consumers will love while reducing development time by 30 – 50 percent.

“Beverages have provided a challenge for formulators because of the high sweetness max,” said John Martin, PureCircle’s Senior Director of Global Technical Innovation. “To achieve that high level of sweetness with stevia can often result in linger and a strong, sweetness aftertaste. However, by selecting the steviol glycosides that provide a very clean, sugar-like taste with a reduced linger, we have been able formulate a stevia ingredient that really works well for the challenges of beverage applications. We are extremely pleased with the results we are seeing.”

Sigma-Beverage is the third, category specific ingredient in PureCircle’s portfolio. It joins Sigma-Tea and Sigma-Dairy, all of which are outperforming first generation Reb A solutions on taste and have been developed through PureCircle’s predictive modeling technology.

Speaking with FoodIngredientsFirst, Olivier Kutz, Marketing Manager, EMEA, said: “The demand for stevia in the UK has been quite instrumental, most food and beverage manufactures are doing a lot of work behind the scenes. You can’t deny that there is too much sugar out there at the moment and stevia is a good solution to this. People want to consume less sugar and that’s where we come in, stevia brings in the natural origin alternative which is something which didn’t exist before.”

Kutz also notes that a lot of activity has been seen in the past five years, particularly in Germany. “75% of stevia launches have been in the last two years, and in Germany stevia has overtaken aspartame, it’s the third sweetener of choice in the UK its number four, in Europe aspartame and stevia are now equal so the demand is undeniable,” he explains. 
“If you are looking for something sustainable that is scalable, then stevia is a good choice of sweetener,” Kutz continues, Click to Enlarge“It’s quite unique and there aren’t many other products out there that offer zero calories, its very family friendly, and more of an everyday product.”

According to Kutz, “no other sweetener on the market has this set of attributes.”

Cargill is another pioneer in the stevia space, who continues to lead with innovative stevia-based products. Achieving great taste in reduced- and zero-calorie applications can be challenging,” Frank Maus, Segment Manager Specialty Sweeteners EMEA told FoodIngredientsFirst in an interview on the 23 Feb 2017. “While stevia sweeteners opened the door for new product innovation, some applications remain tricky when stevia sweeteners are used at higher levels. To support the food and beverage industry, Cargill invested significant time in developing its understanding of the sweet components of the stevia leaf, known as steviol glycosides. This led to ViaTech, a proprietary taste-prediction model that predicts optimal steviol glycosides combinations for delivering great tasting solutions,” he explains.  

This innovative model enables customers to achieve calorie reductions of 75% or more in the most challenging applications while achieving optimal sweetness originating from the stevia leaf.

With the European Commission having amended its current steviol glycocide specifications on November 3rd 2016, European food and beverage companies are now able to rely on the broader portfolio of Cargill’s ViaTech stevia sweeteners to help them achieve optimal sweetness and dramatic sugar reductions in their most challenging applications, like carbonated soft drinks. 

The updated European Commission legislation removed the 75 percent restriction and allows any combination of the 11 approved steviol glycosides as alternatives to Reb A as the predominant components. The new ruling opened doors for European food and food beverage companies who want to reduce calories without compromising on great taste.

According to Maus, Cargill has been taking its leadership position in cutting edge sweeteners, and in the formulation and production of some of the game changing low and zero-calorie sweeteners on the market today. “We continue to innovate in the sweetener space in view of producing sweeteners that bring solutions to the challenges our customers face and to meet consumer needs,” he notes. 

“As an example we have developed C*TruSweet Plus a unique and inventive beverage solution. C*TruSweet Plus helps our customers to reduce calories in their beverages by 50%, while maintaining a great taste in an easy-to-use and affordable way.”

“C*TruSweet Plus is a combination of stevia plant based extract with sweeteners and natural aroma. Maus adds: “It has been developed by our beverage experts and has undergone extensive testing via sensory panel sessions to ensure it meets consumers’ great taste expectations.”

For even higher calorie reduction, Cargill has been developing EverSweet sweetener which will offer a new, delicious choice for reduced and zero calorie food and beverages. “It will help our customers to achieve deep calorie reduction, even go to 100% calorie reduction,” confirms Maus. 

It is made by using the age-old technique of fermentation - with a modern twist. Using a specially crafted baker’s yeast, EverSweet sweetener delivers the best of the same sweetness in the stevia leaf. The result is a sweetener that is closer to the taste of sugar with improved sweetness quality. It does not have the bitterness or licorice aftertastes associated with stevia leaf extracts at high usage levels and higher sweetness intensity. According to Maus EverSweet delivers a faster sweetness onset and a more rounded and robust sweetness profile. 

There is always movement in the natural sweeteners space, and formulations that are continuously being developed: “EverSweet next-generation sweetener will be introduced commercially first in the US however, in Europe, we don’t expect it to be approved before 2019,” he adds. 

by Elizabeth Kenward 

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