As a result of increased focus on sugar calories, consumer demand for non-caloric sweeteners is projected to grow 5% a year until 2017. Of the 360 new products picked up in 2013, 38.3% contained non-caloric sweeteners. Caloric sugar still holds the majority of the global sweetness market. In 2013 the world consumed an estimated 180 million tons of sugar from canes and beets plus high-fructose corn syrup/HFCS. This represents 80% of the overall sugar and sweeteners market. Low or non-caloric sweeteners represent the remaining 20%, or 34 million tons in sugar equivalents.
The food trend toward whole foods and natural products has also meant a growing demand for natural sweeteners made from herbs. In 2013, approximately 20% of new non-caloric soft drinks were based on natural sweeteners, and Canadean predicted this category will continue to show impressive growth with much potential in North America, Europe and Japan particularly. Although the category is growing, it’s rising from low volumes and it will take years to catch up with the market leaders. In 2013 the soft drinks industry consumed only close to 700 tons of stevia ingredients, versus 12,300 tons of aspartame, or 8,700 tons of acesulfame K. The largest natural sweetener on the market is stevia, but Canadean also recognized potential in other herbal-sweeteners such as monk fruit.
Natural sweeteners are still in their exploratory phase, and many product manufacturers are still working to find the right balance of steviol glycosides in their drinks. Although new technologies are being made to improve these products, taste continues to be the main obstacle for the natural sweetener category. Not everyone embraces this distinct taste and some drinks brands, such as Glaceau Vitamin Water, combine the sweetener with sugar. In the U.S., Coca-Cola has had to reverse engineer the Vitamin Waters back to the original composition as they realized Americans didn’t appreciate the stevia taste. However, stevia has its advantages, as Karin Nielsen, ingredient analyst at Canadean, explained, “Stevia may be more suited for certain products such as teas, nectars and juices, as it has an ability to enhance the taste of the natural ingredients.”