Soft drinks look to natural sweeteners

Research has shown that ongoing concerns about obesity and sugar intake have driven interest in reduced-sugar and diet drinks in recent years, while the move towards ‘clean labels’ has worked against some low-calorie sweeteners.

A 2015 Innova Market Insights survey found that sugar content influenced the soft-drink purchasing decisions of 57 per cent of US consumers surveyed, and more than 16 per cent of global soft-drink launches recorded by Innova in the 12 months to the end of March 2016 used no-added-sugar, low-sugar or sugar-free claims.

Increased regulatory approval for stevia sweeteners in markets such as Australia over the past five years has led to a changing direction in sweetener use. Soft drinks have been a key application area, accounting for 20 per cent of launches featuring stevia in the 12 months to the end of March 2016. Still, stevia featuring in fewer than four per cent of global soft-drink launches in the same period.

“This interest in sugar reduction has combined with the ongoing emphasis on clean labelling to boost the use of natural sweeteners in particular, with more sophisticated blends developed for specific applications increasingly in evidence,” Innova Market Insights Director of Innovation Lu Ann Williams said.

Stevia is being more widely used in other soft-drink sub-categories, however, with juice and juice drinks accounting for the highest levels of activity overall. Flavoured bottled water is performing best in terms of penetration, with 13.5 per cent of global sub-category launches featuring stevia.

Other natural sweeteners are also increasingly being used as ‘clean-label’ alternatives, often in combination with sugar, stevia and/or other sweeteners such as erythritol. Honey and agave are proving particularly popular and there is growing interest in the use of monk fruit.

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