March 29, 2010

Herbal Sweetener Taking World By Storm

An all-natural, herbal artificial sweetener, approved for use in the U.S. in December 2008, has already earned a market share of $500 million, according to a March 28 AFP report.

Rebaudioside A (Reb-A) and Purevia are two products made from a South American herb known as stevia, and have become attractive alternatives to aspartame and other sugar-replacing artificial sweeteners because it is all natural.

According to Mintel, a global marketing research firm originally founded in the United Kingdom, the market for stevia-based sweetener sales could top $10 billion within the next couple of years.

"Reb-A and stevia is projected to penetrate 20 to 25 percent of the global sugar and sweetener market, which is currently still growing," Rob Lever of the AFP cites a Mintel report as saying. With PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Nestle among those switching to the stevia-based products, Mintel claims that the market for the sweetener "is set to explode" as more Americans are concerned with obesity.

"In an era with serious political and social and health ramifications of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, stevia's new 'natural' label will give it a prime spot as the holy grail of sweeteners," Naomi Starkman, food policy consultant for the Consumer Union, told Lever.

Despite the glycemic benefits of the product, it has not been approved in most European countries, with France being the exception. However, the product is not without its issues, according to New York University nutrition and food studies professor Marion Nestle.

"It's hard to know whether stevia is safe or not, as research is minimal," Nestle told the AFP on Sunday, while calling into question its all-natural status and its taste.

"We can debate whether a chemical sweetener isolated from stevia leaves is really 'natural' but here's another problem: stevia doesn't taste like sugar," the NYU professor added. "Companies have to fuss with it to cover up its 'off' taste. And they must do so without detracting from the perceived benefits of its natural status."


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