Stevia Still At The Starting Gate In Sugar-Free Co...

Stevia Still At The Starting Gate In Sugar-Free Confectionery

With ongoing concerns about health and the reduction of sugar in the diet, the sugar-free confectionery market should be booming. Yet, the confectionery industry has been slower to take on stevia sweeteners than originally forecast.

In the face of on-going technical developments that have improved sensory properties, and the appearance of new sweeteners and other ingredients with a more natural image, the confectionery industry’s uptake of stevia has been slow off the starting mark.

Sugar-free lines accounted for less than 7 per cent of global confectionery launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2014, which is a similar penetration level to that in 2013. There are significant differences between product types, however, with sugar-free launches representing just 1 per cent of chocolate confectionery introductions, rising to 7.5 per cent in sugar confectionery and to more than 63 per cent in chewing gum.

In combining calorie – particularly sugar – reduction with naturalness, the spreading regulatory approval for stevia sweeteners in markets such as Australia, the US and the EU in the past five years caused something of a revolution in sweetener use across a range of food and drinks markets.

However, this has had only limited effect in confectionery to date. Just more than 1 per cent of confectionery launches in 2014 featured stevia as an ingredient, which was a similar level to that in food and drinks as a whole, but behind the levels of use in soft drinks and tabletop sweeteners, for example.

Formulation problems and the bitter after-taste of stevia are felt to have held back product activity in some instances. Nonetheless, some sectors have found this less of an issue, particularly liquorice sweets and medicated confectionery, and improved formulations are now being introduced to allow more products in other areas.

The US is leading activity levels in sugar-free confectionery with sugar-free lines accounting for 11 per cent of total confectionery launches in 2014. Uptake of stevia is also more advanced, featuring in 2.6 per cent of introductions, which although still relatively modest, is twice the global average.

A review of new product activity in the past few months reveals a wide range of introductions in the US featuring stevia, including additions to the Coco Polo and Chocorite chocolate bar ranges, Ricola Liquorice Pearls, Rap Protein Gummis and Sencha Naturals Green Tea Mints. In Spain, for example, Chocorite All Natural Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar with Stevia promotes itself as a reduced calorie treat. With no sugar added, the product claims to be “all natural with stevia”.

Fears surrounding the health impact of sugar consumption and concerns over the safety of some artificial sweeteners should give a major boost to plant-based ‘natural’ sweeteners, and the development of new sweetener systems is already offering solutions to improving taste profiles.

The confectionery industry has been perhaps slower to take on stevia sweeteners than originally forecast, and it remains to be seen how take-up will develop in the next few years.

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