Natural sweeteners could provide sweet opportunities

photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash Sweeteners

There is a growing demand for alternative sweeteners in Europe. Food and beverage companies are trying to move away from sugar because of health concerns. Consumers are too. There are good opportunities for producers in developing countries to supply natural sweeteners. Examples are stevia, coconut sugar, agave syrup and monk fruit.

The food & beverage industry is actively looking for natural sweeteners to replace sugar in their products. Sugar is made up of glucose and fructose. It is in a wide range of food and beverages. It is a major cause of diet-related illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Consumer awareness of the health issues associated with sugar is increasing, as is pressure from the government and NGOs. This is making companies look for alternative sweeteners. Many natural sweeteners are grown in the southern hemisphere. This trend thus presents an opportunity for producers in developing countries.

Natural sweeteners

Stevia is the most established. It has been used for more than 1,500 years by the GuaranĂ­ people of Brazil and Paraguay. They use it as a sweetener in herbal teas. It was approved for use by the European Union (EU) in November 2011. Since then, it has found its way into a wide range of products in the drinks, confectionery, dairy and bakery sectors. Coca-Cola Life, formulated with stevia leaf extract, is one of the most high-profile product launches.

Stevia is popular as it has zero calories. It also has many associated health properties, such as lowering blood glucose and blood pressure levels. Stevia is also recognised as having anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour and anti-diarrheal properties. Apart from Brazil and Paraguay, it is grown in Asian countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Coconut sugar is also gaining popularity as an alternative to cane sugar and beet sugar. It is made from the sap of the flower bud stem of the coconut palm. The Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand are the leading producers. They generate about 80%of global supply.

Coconut sugar has fewer calories than traditional sugar. It is used as a sweetener in beverages, confectionery products and bakery products. Demand for coconut sugar comes from producers of vegan products. Conventional sugar is sometimes processed with the bone char from animals to get its white colour. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is an NGO that encourages consumers to use coconut sugar as a vegan alternative to conventional sugar.

Other natural sweeteners are also making their way into food and drink products. Agave syrup (nectar) is made from the juice of the agave plant. This plant is native to Latin America and South America. Organic agave syrup is popular with consumers looking for healthy alternatives to sugar.

Monk fruit sweetener is sourced from the monk fruit plant native to China and Thailand. One of its main advantages is it is a zero-calorie sweetener. Other natural sweeteners from developing countries include brazzein and monatin.

Major selling points

Food and drink companies are not just looking for natural sweeteners to replace sugar in their products. Many want sweeteners that have some health or other attributes. A major selling point for stevia and monk fruit sweetener is that they have zero calories. Stevia production is also believed to have a lower environmental impact than conventional sugar. Tate & Lyle has partnered with the NGO Earthwatch to measure the sustainability of its stevia supply chain.

The Indonesian organisation Aliet Green is actively marketing the ethical attributes of its coconut sugar. This women’s social enterprise is working with small producers to source organic coconuts. It is the first Indonesian company to bring certified organic and Fairtrade coconut sugar into the market. These certifications have helped Aliet Green access export markets.

Sweet opportunities

Demand for natural sweeteners is expected to rise in Europe. If producers in developing countries source sustainably, there could be sweet opportunities in the European market.

This news article was written for CBI by Ecovia Intelligence.

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