Success imperatives for Natural High Intensity Sweeteners
New sources of Natural High Intensity Sweeteners are constantly being discovered. The latest to be tested and discussed is "Miraculin" from the African berry - Miracle fruit. This molecule has the ability to make acidic and sour tasting foods, taste sweet. Now that sounds like a wonder molecule for specific pharmaceutic and food applications. But success in this market requires the molecules to have a minimum set of characteristics.
1. Ease of availability - stevia is widely cultivated. Luo Han Guo is being cultivated as a backend integration by some extract manufacturers. Tagatose has a ready supply of milk proteins. The red berry mentioned above is still rare. Glycirrhiza is grown in South Asia for use in traditional medicine and the quick availability of the raw material for bulk production is not visible currently. Thaumatococcus danielli from Africa, used to make Thaumatin again is available only through one manufacturer and cultivation is not as widespread as stevia has achieved. While raw material supply is important, so is the capacity to extract, purify, stabilize and reach it to the customers.
2. Organoleptic properties - Most if not all of the natural High intensity sweeteners suffer from a perception of bitterness associated with their concentration dependant sweetening ability. The relationship between sweetness intensity and concentration is not linear and developing the right dosage and substitution percentage for sugar requires extensive knowledge of interaction of these ingredients in both the food matrix and in the tongue. Some of them are inherently bitter.
3. Industry commitment - Developing operations from cultivation to processing and marketing. Influencing mindset of consumers with extensive marketing and advertising support is essential. Investment in Research and development to establish a healthy pipeline of innovations will ensure that fickle consumer trends can be quickly addressed until the ingredient is able to establish itself in the market as a mainstay of the sweetener market.
4. Riding the Glocal wave - The new sweetener ingredients are exotic, being sourced from endemic cultures and having a history of traditional usage. To bring them to the global market without losing the local flavor, in fact leveraging the local history of usage for greater consumer acceptance, is a fine balancing act that market participants have to practice. The sensory perception and positioning of the product has to cater to global means of preference and provide customization in different regions.
5. Price - Current trends indicate that price is the least of the factors influencing the success of a natural high intensity sweetener. Cost of inclusion in foods is high, not due to ingredient price but due to the need for effective bulking agents that play the structural role of sugar in food matrices. The premium commanded for "natural" is justified in these cases.
If an ingredient is able to address these issues satisfactorily, then commercial success is assured. The hype surrounding stevia based sweeteners is justified by a high rating on many of the parameters above and it might indeed prove to be the "holy grail" of sweeteners. Added to that the tag of sustainability (supply, subsidy, carbon footprint et al) is definitely a driving force for stevia in the sweeteners market. It remains to be seen if the regulatory scenario, currently optimistic, is indeed going to drive explosive growth of this ingredient.