Agave made up only about 3% of the sugar and sweetener launches recorded globally on the Innova Database in the 12 months to the end of March 2011, but there was a noticeable increase in interest in the U.S. market in particular, where the number of launches doubled over the same period, although from a relatively small base. In addition, Innova Market Insights recorded that agave was increasingly used as a sweetener ingredient in a wide range of product launches, including soft drinks, sauces, cereals and confectionery.
Agave nectar or syrup is commercially produced mainly in Mexico and South Africa from several species of agave and it is 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than conventional sugar (sucrose), with a lower glycemic load (similar to that of fructose), allowing it to be marketed as a healthy natural sweetening alternative. It is sold in light, amber, dark and raw formats, with the majority of products also being organic, building on the natural image, and it is also widely marketed on its vegan status.
According to Lu Ann Williams, head of research at Innova Market Insights, agave nectar still only makes up a small part of the sweetener market, but recent years have seen it emerge from the specialist health food sector and into the mainstream market in many countries. While the natural, healthy, low GI image presented would seem to offer good prospects, she contends that it is also in a highly competitive marketplace, and in the face of some ongoing adverse publicity about safety issues, including its high fructose content and its highly processed nature, its future still hangs in the balance.
A review of recent product launches recorded on the Innova Database shows that while agave syrup has continued to see product activity in its major producing countries of Mexico and South Africa in recent years, interest also spread geographically, not only to the U.S., but also to a number of European markets. The U.K., Spain, France, Finland and Hungary all saw the launch of agave sweeteners in the 12 months to the end of March 2011.