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Sweet Success

Albion Minerals®

The seat for the top natural sweetener remains up for grabs as suppliers continue to innovate.

Today, it is not uncommon for the media to be on a sugar high with stories focused on the dozens of pounds of sugar that Americans consume on an annual basis. According to consumer market research firm the Hartman Group, over the years, its work has consistently shown that when consumers are asked what they are doing to improve their health and wellness, a common refrain is, “I’m watching my sugar intake.” 

The growing consumer base seeking to avoid nutrient-void white sugar or chemical-based fake sugars is looking to the natural industry to help satisfy their sweet cravings. Offering a review of the state of the natural sweetener market, Thom King, president of Oregon-based Steviva Brands, Inc., said agave has slipped some, due to press regarding a negative impact on diabetics. Lohan (monk fruit) has started to make some decent market penetration, but King noted the metallic aftertaste Has been a barrier for market acceptance. And tagatose has moved very slowly because of the fact that it is barely natural. Meanwhile, pure stevia has continued to increase market penetration, according to King, adding that stevia blends such as Fructevia, PureVia, Truvia and Steviva Blend have enjoyed substantial increases because of successful flavor masking.

“Stevia is still the top natural high intensity sweetener used, but new blends of various steviol glycosides are being introduced,” said Shanyn Seiler, senior scientist with WILD Flavors, Inc. in Kentucky. “Monk fruit is becoming a popular competitor to stevia extracts as monatin and other natural sweeteners are still in the development stages.The focus for formulators has been moving to low-calorie products instead of zero calorie; a more gradual sugar reduction is becoming a better approach for consumer acceptability.” 

Steven Light, business development manager with Oregon-based Amax NutraSource, Inc., noted that the natural sweeteners market hasn’t matured and remains an exciting one in which to be an active participant.

“Consumers continue to look for alter- natives to stevia. With monk fruit, consumer acceptance continues to grow for the extract and blends.” 

Growth & Change Light pointed out that natural sweeteners began in niche products, but that has changed. “We now see growing mainstream product use from beverages, foods, table top sachets, bulk pouches, dry mixes, enhanced waters, cereals, toppings, yogurts, ice creams, sauces and a variety of commercial food products.” 

King added that the biggest increases have been seen in the beverage category, but with the successful masking and formulation of stevia blends, such as his company’s Fructevia, which participates in the Maillard reaction and browning [chemical reaction], there has Been substantial growth in baked goods and confections.

In addition, natural sweeteners are being used in combination with sucrose or other caloric sweeteners. “Using stevia to lower a product’s sugar content allows fewer calories, but still provides a full sugar taste and mouth feel,” said WILD Flavor’s Seiler.

Product News 

WILD has recently launched natural sweetness enhancers to reduce sugar and meet calorie or cost objectives. The company offers a portfolio of stevia extracts including Reb A 98, Reb A 95, Reb A 80 and Reb A 60. “When these were first launched four years ago, everyone wanted Reb A 95 or higher,” Seiler recalled. “We found early on that Reb A 80 coupled with WILD’s extensive taste modification expertise is the best balanced and clean-tasting product. We have spent the last few years educating our customers that the higher the Reb A content is not always the best-tasting product, but a Reb A 80 and, in some cases, Reb A 60 are the better options and most cost-effective choice.” 

Amax NutraSource produces an all- natural, zero-calorie sweetener called Perfecta® with monk fruit. “We complement Perfecta with three more zero- calorie blends and four reduced-calorie blends,” Light explained, adding that all Of these natural sweeteners utilize monk fruit extract.

According to King, Steviva Brands also evolved its product line the past couple years to meet the ever-growing demand of beverage, confections and baked goods, by introducing two new products: Steviva Blend SB55 Syrup as a replacement for high fructose corn syrup and a powdered version of the Steviva Blend, which works perfectly in cream filling, frosting and glazes.

Up to Task 

Probably the biggest challenge with natural sweeteners is finding the exact right sweetener for each finished product, said King. “Fortunately, we offer four different natural sweetening options and most of the time we are successful in delivering exactly what our manufacturing clients are looking for. With the recent expansion of our plant and warehouse facility, we have been able to stock at least six months worth of inventory so we can meet any client demand.” 

Light explained that Amax NutraSource has been working with natural sweeteners for 15 years, how- ever, early on, the extracted sweeteners had “off” flavor notes that provided a challenge in formulation and limited their uses. “The isolation of certain key actives and compounds improved the taste and intensity of these extracts. We focused on blends to further improve on taste, user friendliness and cost per sweetening dose. It has been a challenge, but the results have provided viable alternatives in the sweetener market.” 

As for other innovations, Steviva Brands, Inc. started packaging its commercial products in 25 kg poly lined boxes as opposed to bags. “This greatly reduced compaction issues that can produce chunks that increase production times for the end users,” said King. “While our cost of goods sold went up slightly by doing this, we felt that it delivered a much better product that cut down on our client’s production times.” 

Light added that customers who formulate with natural sweeteners could now work with high intensity extracts, blends and liquids for zero calorie/reduced calorie applications.

Better Health 

Consumers, especially those trying to lose weight, are relying on natural sweeteners to keep their food and beverages low calorie, sweet and tasty—as well as healthy. King said Steviva Brands, Inc. uses only non-GMO, kosher and gluten-free ingredients. “Our Fructevia sweetener contains inulin, a widely accepted prebiotic and magnesium carbonate that helps with the absorption of calcium. All of our sweeteners are all-natural, diabetic safe, low glycemic and low calorie. With the diabesity epidemic, our sweeteners really make a difference.” 

Amax NutraSource’s Light pointed out that monk fruit is also diabetic- friendly with a low glycemic index, and that besides the reduction of calories, it offers additional health benefits. “There is research on monk fruit’s immunity boosting promotion that stems from its traditional uses,” he said. “The appeal of all-natural, non-GMO and calorie reduction is very popular for health-conscious consumers. Suppliers and manufacturers will continue this trend by adding all-natural ingredients to blends that enhance the health attributes of all- natural sweeteners, such as the addition of green tea.” 

King concluded that, at Steviva Brands, having a perfect flavor profile has been the company’s passion for more than 12 years. “We never want clients to sacrifice flavor for calories.Our water-extraction process and unique combination of steviol glycides give us a very solid differential competitive advantage.” 

Noting that some of the world’s largest food manufactures regularly request samples from the company, “the key selling points for them are all-natural, non-GMO, low-glycemic and gluten-free,” King added. “With consumer awareness increasing, ‘clean’ labels sell and manufactures are capitalizing on this.” NIE

Albion Minerals®