Industry News | October 13, 2008

Consumers Want Natural, Zero-Cal Sweeteners

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A recent study by market intelligence group Packaged Facts found consumers are seeking out natural sweetener alternatives that are less refined and are remaining wary of high fructose corn syrup, despite recent positive FDA safety rulings.

The “Trends in the U.S. Market for Sugar” study pegs the 2007 retail market for sweeteners at $3.1 billion and projects the market to grow to only $3.2 billion by 2012. Although sales are predicted to remain stable, sales of low- and no-calorie sweeteners will rise, according to the company, while sales of saccharin, one of five FDA-approved no-calorie sugar substitutes, will continue to decline in favor of safer alternatives.

“People continue to want sweet foods,” says Elaine Lipson, the study’s author, “but they’re looking for a sweetener that satisfies them form a pleasure standpoint, is safe in terms of artificial sweeteners, and has a minimal impact on blood sugar or calories. Everyone is looking for the Holy Grail of sweeteners.”

The report calls the new zero-calorie , high-intensity sweetener Stevia a “wild card” in the market, but expects it to reach popularity in the near future. Stevia and its derivatives are only approved for sale as dietary supplements in the U.S., however, there are industry expectations for approval in food and beverages on the horizon. Applications for patent protections for a stevia derivative have been developed jointly by Coca-Cola and Cargill, as well as one developed by PepsiCo and Merisant Co., under brand names Purevia and Truvia.

Stevia’s potential success in the U.S. market is in part because of the increasing consumer criticism of high fructose corn syrup. Lipson says despite high fructose corn syrup’s similarity to sugar, there is still market pressure to offer foods without the sweetener. “People want alternatives to high fructose corn syrup, especially for kids,” she says.

Lipson advises restaurant operators to familiarize themselves with the offerings within the sweetener market. “You can really set yourself apart by offering honey that’s locally made, which is something we’re going to continue to see, or pure maple syrup,” she says. “There are options. There are close to 30 different sweeteners that you can buy.”

--Blair Chancey