Consuming healthier beverages and foods continues to be a popular consumer trend. Whether it includes a move toward natural, reducing calories or providing great taste, sweeteners continue to play a pivotal role in healthy beverage formulation and marketing.
U.S. demand for alternative sweeteners is expected to grow 3.4 percent annually to more than $1.3 billion in 2013, according to The Freedonia Group Inc., Cleveland, in its report Alternative Sweeteners. The beverage industry used $375 million in alternative sweeteners in 2008, and is anticipated to increase 0.9 percent annually to $392 million in 2013, it says.
The research group says that while growth in diet soft drinks, historically the largest outlet for alternative sweeteners, will be almost nonexistent, other applications will offer opportunities for growth. This trend will lead to above-average gains for sucralose and acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) in the food and beverage industry, as well as low-calorie polyols such as erythritol and new options such as stevia extract rebaudioside A (Reb-A).
High-intensity sweeteners, despite the declining soft drink market, will remain the largest product category among alternative sweeteners, The Freedonia Group says. This leadership position is due to high-intensity sweeteners’ dominance of the large diet soft drink and tabletop sweetener markets. Aspartame is expected to stay on top in diet soft drinks, despite relentless competition from new products, it says. All of the Top 10 diet soft drink brands use aspartame, either alone or in conjunction with other high-intensity sweeteners.
Despite the success of alternative sweeteners, sucrose and corn sweeteners will continue to lead the overall U.S. sweetener market, the research group says. Even diet soft drinks, one of the great market successes for alternative sweeteners, account for less than a third of carbonated soft drink production, it says.
Ingredient companies and the beverage industry continue to provide consumers with more sweeteners and more low-calorie-, reduced-sugar and sugar-free products. Late last year, Reb-A was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for use in beverages and foods as a general purpose sweetener at a 95 percent purity or above. Reb A is derived from the sweet part of the stevia plant. The calorie-free sweetener is 250 to 400 times sweeter than sugar, and has broad appeal to both beverage and food applications because stevia is pH and heat stable. Stevia is alluring to consumers because it is a natural, no-calorie sweetener.
Before the FDA granted Reb-A GRAS status, Cargill and The Coca-Cola Co. introduced Truvia table-top stevia sweetener in May 2008. Whole Earth Sweetener Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of Chicago-based Merisant Co., then teamed up with Pepsi-Cola North America and PureCircle, with a U.S. office in Florham Park, N. J., to develop PureVia, a stevia-derived sweetener, which rolled out after receiving GRAS status.
Immediately following the FDA approval announcement, The Coca-Cola Co. and Pepsi-Cola North America launched beverages formulated with stevia. Pepsi-Cola North America launched three flavors of SoBe Life Water containing PureVia. The Coca-Cola Co., in turn, launched Sprite Green, a reduced-calorie soft drink using Truvia, and two Odwalla juice drinks formulated with Truvia. This spring, Pepsi launched Trop50, a version of its Tropicana orange juice with 50 percent less sugar than the original using PureVia to sweeten the juice. The Coca-Coal Co. then followed with the launch of Vitaminwater10 that contains a blend of stevia, crystalline fructose and erythritol. In April, Big Red Inc., the parent company of All Sport Inc., and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. introduced All Sport Naturally Zero, a zero-calorie sports drink sweetened with stevia.
With more stevia product developments planned, PureCircle signed long-term contracts with PepsiCo and Whole Earth Sweetener Co. for the supply of high-purity Reb-A for use in beverages and tabletop sweeteners worldwide under the PureVia brand. This year, PureCircle has quadrupled production capacity of stevia extracts at its plant in Jiangzi, China, to keep up with the growing demand for the sweetener. PureCircle’s extraction plant was producing 1,000 metric tons of stevia extract annually, but is now expected to meet its new 4,000 metric ton capacity during the year ahead.
Another leading supplier of stevia, GLG Life Tech Corp., Vancouver, received an initial order from Cargill valued at $40.5 million for the delivery of high-grade stevia extract beginning October 2009. In addition, GLG has agreed to make additional product available to Cargill during the next 18 months for a possible increase in the order size. GLG will provide a minimum of 80 percent of Cargill’s global demand for high-grade stevia extract for the next five years, says Luke Zhang, GLG’s chairman and chief executive officer, in a release.
This spring, GLG also partnered with Zevia, Seattle, to reformulate its natural soda line with GLG rebiana stevia extract. The line also is sweetened with erythritol. Zevia, which originally launched in 2007, is nationally distributed in stores such as Whole Foods Markets, and is available in Cola, Ginger Ale, Twist, Orange, Root Beer and Black Cherry flavors.
Another strategic partnership, Sunwin International Neutraceuticals Inc., Qufu, China, developed Stevia Rebaudioside Reb A 98, which will be marketed and sold exclusively by Sunwin USA and Wild Flavors Inc., Erlanger, Ky. The sweetener will be branded within the stevia extract product line as OnlySweet. Wild Flavors began working with OnlySweet to incorporate the flavor house’s Taste Modification Technologies, which it hopes will allow for stevia extract sales and natural sweetening solutions in a wider range of beverage and food applications. OnlySweet Reb A 98 contains no more than 0.5 percent of impurities and moisture, and is approximately 400 times sweeter than sucrose. OnlySweet is a calorie-free, low-glycemic index sweetener that provides a clean, sweet taste, the company says. Sunwin also has a proprietary blended stevia tabletop sweetener under the OnlySweet name, which is currently sold in grocery stores nationwide.
Moving to broaden its global sweeteners platform, Corn Products International Inc., Westchester, Ill., entered into a long-term agreement with Morita Kagaku Kogyo Co. Ltd., Osaka, Japan, for the exclusive license of its patented stevia strain, manufacturing technology and stevia production, along with global marketing. The sweetener, to be marketed under the brand name Enliten, has a high content of Reb-A, and is a natural, low-calorie sweetener. Enliten is designed to provide a clean, sweet taste.
Corn Products intends to achieve supply and quality consistency through an integrated supply chain, including the use of patented plants in the Northern and Southern hemispheres to optimize supply across growing seasons. In addition to current access to Morita’s production in Japan, Corn Products is committing about $20 million to begin construction this year of a dedicated plant in Brazil, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Enliten will be marketed in select Latin American and Asian countries, where the sweetener is already approved for use in beverages and foods, and the company will file for regulatory approval in the United States, a process that is expected to take several years to complete.
Sweet Green Fields LLC, Bellingham, Wash., is a U.S.-based company that supplies a 97 percent Reb-A and an 80 percent Reb-A. For the past three years, beverage companies have represented the largest segment of the company’s customer portfolio, says Michael Quin, Sweet Green Fields’ vice president of sales and marketing. However, since stevia received GRAS status, orders have grown significantly from beverage companies, with the most interest coming from carbonated soft drink, juice, tea and functional beverage manufacturers, he says.
“Some companies have been very successful with very little formulation challenge, and others have stated due to ingredient formula complexity, they are progressing at a slower pace,” Quin says. “Companies are understandably very careful when it comes to changing formulation with their core products. Replacing one sweetener with another can also impact other components of product taste, including mouthfeel. In this regard, we are hearing very positive results from reduced sugar blends in combination with high-purity Reb-A.”
While a lot of development is occurring in stevia, sweetener companies are still researching, creating and launching other new sweeteners. In April, Ajinomoto Co. Inc., Chicago, a leading supplier of aspartame, applied to the FDA for approval of Advantame for use in beverages and foods. The sweetener is a derivative of aspartame, and is 20,000 times sweeter than sugar and 100 times more potent than aspartame, the company says.
Advantame has a sweet, clean, sugar-like taste, and blends well with sugar and high fructose corn syrup, providing food and drink companies with an alternative that has both nutritional and environmental advantages, says Brendan Naulty, Ajinomoto’s president.
Ajinomoto has spent almost 10 years in researching and developing this next generation of non-caloric sweeteners. Advantame is the first that the company intends to introduce to the market in the next few years.
In February, The NutraSweet Co., Chicago, announced the launch of NutraSweet Cane, a sweetener blend that includes cane sugar. NutraSweet Cane, which also is suitable for people with diabetes, is one of the three sweetener blends that have been developed through a partnership with The NutraSweet Co. and Domino Foods Inc., West Palm Beach, Fla. For NutraSweet Cane’s launch at retail, NutraSweet partnered with Chef Art Smith, who created a collection of low-calorie drink and food recipes featuring the new sweetener.
Domino Sugar also released a new CarbonFree-certified line of sugar products for retail that are available in select markets for eco-conscious consumers looking to reduce their climate impact. Domino Sugar’s pure cane products were certified CarbonFree by Carbonfund.org. The CarbonFree label indicates the production and delivery of Domino Sugar’s new specially marked green and yellow packages result in net zero carbon emissions.
More options for more categories
Sweetener houses continue to offer an array of options for diverse beverage formulation. In addition to its Truvia natural sweetener brand, Cargill offers Zerose erythritol, a natural and organic bulk sweetener that contains no calories. Zerose erythritol is available as a USDA-certified organic product. The sweetener tastes about 60 to 70 percent as sweet as sugar, provides bulk and masks the aftertaste of intense sweeteners, the company says.
Beneo-Palatinit Inc., Morris Plaines, N.J., recently presented Palatinose’s benefits for beer at the Craft Brewers Conference. Palatinose is a sugar that naturally occurs in honey. It is slowly metabolized in the small intestine, which leads to it being the only disaccharide with a glycemic index that is considered very low, the company says. Inspired by its proven non-fermentability by oral lactic acid bacteria, Palatinose was tested and shown that most common brewing yeasts are unable to ferment Palatinose, suggesting that the functional carbohydrate would ideally be added as early as possible in the brewhouse procedure.
Danisco also offers several products that can be used in beverages to add value and improve the nutritional profile. The company offers xylitol, a sugar-free, lower-calorie alternative to sugars, that provides the characteristic mouthfeel, and similar sweetness and sweetness profile associated with sucrose. At 2.4 calories per gram, the calorie content can be halved without loss of quality, says Luisa Viscione, Danisco’s beverage application specialist based in the United Kingdom.
The company also supplies Litesse, a branded polydextrose that can be used as a source of prebiotic dietary fiber within many beverage formulations. It has a low-sweetness level, low-calorie content and is neutral tasting at suggested use levels, Viscione says.
The main issues when reducing the sugar content of a beverage formulation still remain retaining the correct sweetness intensity and profile, obtaining acceptable stability and shelf-life, and keeping a pleasant mouthfeel.
“Consumers want health, but not at the cost of flavor,” Viscione says. “They won’t compromise on the final product taste.”