Stevia rebaudiana, a plant that belongs to the sunflower family, continues to find extensive use as a sweetener in the food and beverage industry. However, the use of stevia is anything but recent. Historians have found that the Guarani peoples, indigenous to South America, have been using stevia market for over 1,500 years. Yet, the natural sweetener met with commercial success only after Japan began cultivating the plant in the 1970s.
Morita Kagaku Kogyo Co., Ltd, a Japanese company, holds the distinction of being the first to sell stevia in the commercial market. Stevia thus enjoys a firm footing in the Japanese market, accounting for an appreciable 40% of the share of the country’s sweetener market. The popularity of stevia has reached dizzying heights in recent times, especially with companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi using it in low- or zero-calorie beverages. The intensely sweet flavor that stevia lends, while adding only negligible calories, is its most desirable attribute.
Increasing Obesity Rates and More Diabetics Worldwide Help Boost Demand for Stevia
Although stevia began to enjoy commercial success in the United States in the 1980s, and reached other developed markets over the next few years, the awareness levels about stevia have been remarkably low in emerging markets. However, that is now changing with the globalization of the food culture and a general increase in the demand for natural sweeteners in developing countries.
Moreover, with a growing number of diabetics and calorie-watching consumers globally, the demand for sugar alternatives has exhibited an unprecedented rise in recent years. The stevia plant is harvested primarily in Latin American countries as well as in China. The latter produces millions of tons of stevia every year and has emerged as the leading stevia exporter globally.
According to a report published by Persistence Market Research, the global stevia market was pegged at US$347 mn in 2014 and is projected to rise steadily to stand at US$565.2 mn by the end of 2020. This translates to a high single-digit CAGR for the global stevia market. In terms of volume, the consumption of stevia as an ingredient globally was 5,100.6 tons as of 2014, and will reach 8,506.9 tons by 2020.
Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) Holds Enormous Opportunity for Companies in Stevia Market
With a share of 25% of the global stevia market, Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) was the single largest regional market in the world in 2014. The stevia market here has received an impetus essentially because of the availability of a large pool of experts at affordable wages. Many private label companies have ventured forth into the stevia market in Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) to harness the opportunities that exist here. Consumers in this region are also becoming more aware about stevia as a sugar substitute, creating additional growth opportunities in this space.
Besides APEJ, the stevia market in North America and Latin America have shown steady growth and still have scope for growth and expansion. Europe, on the other hand, has not been able to register the same pace of growth in the stevia market because consumers here are reluctant in switching over to stevia from sugar or other sugar substitutes. One factor that deters consumers from switching to stevia is its slightly bitter and unpleasant aftertaste – companies are working on addressing this shortcoming; once this happens, more people will be willing to regularly use stevia.
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