Getting the taste right has been a challenge, but the opportunity is great.
New member of the family Diet or regular? With the introduction in Argentina of the “mid-calorie” Coca-Cola Life, with the Cargill sweetener Truvia, customers can split the difference. (Coca-Cola Light is Diet Coke in the U.S.) Coca-Cola Life Sweeteners: stevia, sugar *Calories: 100 Coca-Cola Sweetener: corn syrup *Calories: 250 Coca-Cola Zero Sweetener: Aspartame *Calories: 0 Coca-Cola Light Sweetener: Aspartame *Calories: 0 * Calories per 20 ounces (590 mL)
One of Cargill’s biggest innovations of the past decade is getting an important test in Argentina.
A new “mid-calorie” Coca-Cola that recently launched there uses Cargill’s brand of the sugar substitute stevia, which is extracted from the leaf of a shrub and is considered a natural zero-calorie sweetener.
Cargill’s product, called Truvia, is already a hit in the packet sweetener market and has made headway in noncarbonated beverages such as juice and ready-to-drink tea.
But it has yet to crack the beverage business big time, particularly the gigantic market for carbonated drinks.
“Truvia has done very well as a tabletop sweetener, but its best days in beverages are still ahead of us, ” said John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest. “The industry is not going to know the real potential of stevia in carbonated soft drinks for another two or three years.”
But the industry will get a good taste of stevia’s potential with the Argentina launch of “Coca-Cola Life,” the first time the Coca-Cola Co. has used the sweetener in its flagship product.
Stevia is a relatively new ingredient, getting the green light from federal food regulators about five years ago. The zero-calorie sweetener is derived from the stevia plant, which is native to Latin America but also is grown in Asia.
Stevia’s allure is simple: It’s not an artificial sweetener, so it has a healthy halo, industry analysts say.
“It’s more in line with the values consumers are looking for today — healthy consumption,” said Larry Finkel, director of food and beverage research at MarketResearch.com.
Still, a lawsuit filed in Hawaii last month against Cargill challenges the naturalness of Truvia, one of several suits against packaged-food makers over “natural” claims. Cargill said it plans to “aggressively defend the lawsuit.”
Cargill developed Truvia in a partnership with Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, and Coke today uses it in at least 45 products in 15 countries, often mixing it with other sweeteners.
PepsiCo Inc. is using stevia in the Australian version of its mid-calorie Pepsi Next. Mid-calorie sodas have a calorie level midway between zero-calorie beverages and full-calorie products.
Minnetonka-based Cargill sells Truvia directly in the packet sweetener market, a business that generates over $100 million in sales.
Truvia is the second-biggest packet sweetener with 13 percent of the market for the year ending July 14, according to IRI, a market research firm that tracks sales at conventional grocery stores. Splenda was tops with a 37 percent share.
But Truvia was the only one of the major brand-name tabletop sweeteners that showed any U.S. sales growth last year, according to IRI.
“This is not just a U.S. phenomenon,” said Matthew Jacobs, Cargill’s business development manager for Truvia. The tabletop product is now available in seven other countries, and Cargill plans to launch it in India and Brazil next year.
As an ingredient, stevia “does well in juice and tea, ” said Jonas Feliciano, an analyst at market researcher Euromonitor International. “But it’s still really in its nascent stage in beverages.” Particularly carbonated beverages.