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Sugar-free scramble: two rivals prepare to launch plant-based sweeteners in the UK
by Rebecca Smithers - 03/10/2011
"New products Truvia and PureVia, derived from South American plant, set to reinvigorate stagnating £60m market"
It's limbering up to be a multimillion-pound tussle between two multinational food and drink companies for the waistlines and purses of health-conscious British consumers.
Rival manufacturers are battling to be the first to launch new sweetener products derived from a natural source – the leaves of the South American stevia plant – in British supermarkets towards the end of this month, once final paperwork is cleared with food regulators in Brussels.
Both are hoping to bolster the UK's stagnant £60m sweetener sector and take market share from the long-standing artificial alternatives.
Amid consumer concerns about the high chemical content of artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and sucralose – and the health concerns surrounding aspartame in particular – its manufacturers hope the new sweetener will be more appealing to shoppers looking for a healthier alternative to sugar. The current market leaders are Merisant's Canderel and Tate & Lyle's Splenda.
In one corner is a new product called Truvia, which is being brought to the UK through a partnership between Silver Spoon – the sugar producer owned by Associated British Foods – and the US food group Cargill, the world's largest private company. It boldly promises health-conscious consumers a calorie-free sweet taste which "won't end up on your conscience or on your thighs" – even though it has racked up quite a few airmiles in the process.
And in the other corner is PureVia – a sweetener developed jointly by Pepsico and Merisant. It is being produced in conjunction with stevia producer PureCircle, which recently announced a new European headquarters in London and the signing of a new UK distribution agreement.
The new sweetener, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar, is derived from the stevia plant – a small shrub grown largely in Argentina and Paraguay that has been used for centuries by the indigenous population to sweeten their food and drink. It is made from steviol glycoside, obtained by steeping the leaves in water, which is further purified to provide a calorie-free sweet taste.
In partnership with Coca-Cola, Cargill launched Truvia in the US nearly three years ago, since when it has grabbed a 12.7% share of the US tabletop sweetener market worth $685m (£434m) annually.
The future is large. A report from Mintel last year estimated that the global stevia market could be worth $2bn by the end of this year.
Truvia's Zanna McFerson said she was confident it would be a hit with British shoppers: "Being natural and with zero calories is a powerful combination… It looks and tastes good with the crunch and crystal formation of sugar… We are very excited about bringing it to the UK."
More than a quarter of all British households (26%) currently buy artificial sweeteners. In the US the sector had been declining – mirrored in the UK, where sales of sweeteners edged up by only 0.02% last year and where sugar sales have been in long-term decline, falling by 3% a year for the last 15 years. A renaissance in the popularity of home baking has made up for some of the shortfall.
The imminent launch of the products follows recent regulatory approval. In April last year the European Food Safety Authority said it considered sweeteners made from stevia to be safe for use in food and beverages. Earlier last month the ingredient cleared the final hurdle of formal EU approval, allowing plans for be made for the UK launch in the UK to go ahead in the coming weeks once final paperwork has been lodged.
Truvia will be distributed through supermarkets, restaurants, hotels and other food distribution outlets, at a price premium of about 30% compared with existing sweeteners. The product launch will be supported by a £5m advertising campaign early next year.
Tony Lucas, marketing director of Silver Spoon, said: "The introduction of stevia-based sweeteners to the UK market will be one of the most significant category developments in this country in years."
He said there was scope for the new product to increase the UK sweetener market by 18% over two years, adding £10m to sales.
But in the US, the launch of Truvia has not been without controversy and a flurry of consumer complaints on internet talkboards relating to its taste, which some people complain is bitter, along with alleged side effects such as diarrhoea, bloating, wind and constipation.
More Details: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/oct/02/rivals-prepare-to-launch-plant-based-sweeteners?newsfeed=true