Why hasn't the confectionery industry embraced stevia?
Given the increasing noise around sugar’s ill effects on health, one would expect the sugar-free confectionery market to be booming. But this isn’t the case: sugar-free lines accounted for less than 7% of global confectionery launches in 2014, a similar penetration level to 2013, according to Innova Market Insights.
But not all sugar-free products are equal. Sugar-free launches represent just 1% of chocolate confectionery introductions, rising to 7.5% in sugar confectionery and more than 63% in chewing gum. Even within these categories, penetration varies by type of product, with sugar-free launches more common in the hard candy market, where they accounted for nearly 20% of introductions.
Stevia has changed the sweetener landscape in recent years, due in part to its ‘natural’ image and increasing regulatory approval. Strangely, though, this hasn’t been reflected in confectionery launches. Just over 1% 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 less than the levels of use in soft drinks and tabletop sweeteners, for instance.
Problems with formulation and stevia’s bitter aftertaste have held back product activity in some instances, said Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights, but some sectors haven’t had problems with this - particularly liquorice sweets and medicated confectionery. Improved stevia formulations are now being introduced, increasing the scope for stevia use in other confectionery categories.
The USA leads activity levels in sugar-free confectionery with sugar-free lines accounting for 11% of total confectionery launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2014. Uptake of stevia is also more advanced, featuring in 2.6% of introductions, which although still relatively modest, is twice the global average.
The confectionery industry has been slower to take on stevia sweeteners than originally expected, Williams said, and it remains to be seen how take-up will develop over the next few years.
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