Stevia World speaker promotes global association

by Jeff Gelski
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ATLANTA — The expanding stevia industry could use a strong international trade association focused on consumer-based messaging and government and social influences, said James Kempland, vice-president of marketing for GLG Life Tech Corp. He spoke Feb. 25 at Stevia World Americas in Atlanta.

Promoters and suppliers of stevia-based sweeteners need to look beyond individual differences, create a singular message and build awareness among consumers while also educating them, he said.

“We need to speak with one voice to maximize the investment and minimize the confusion,” Mr. Kempland said.

He gave “40 is the new zero” as one potential marketing strategy for stevia-based sweeteners. Whereas consumers generally face two options in soft drinks in either 200-calorie or 0-calorie products, stevia-based sweeteners could be used with sugar to present a third option, a 40-calorie, or mid-calorie, drink, Mr. Kempland said.

Stevia World Americas, a two-day conference scheduled to end Feb. 26, drew about 150 attendees from 24 countries. GLG Life Tech and PureCircle, both global suppliers of stevia-based natural, zero-calorie sweeteners, were major sponsors of the event.

Yet the range of the stevia industry also was evident. In attendance was Vandana K. Bapna, based in Maryland and a U.S. representative and consultant seeking ways to import organic stevia from India. Chad R. Westberg, president and chief executive officer of Jera Farms, L.L.C., Elk River, Minn., sought opportunities to grow the stevia plant domestically in the United States.

Consumers need to be educated and made aware of stevia-based sweeteners, said Michael Movitz, vice-president of business development for SPINS Inc. He pointed to a 2009 report from Mintel and SPINS on stevia and other natural sweeteners. It showed 20% of respondents had heard of stevia but hadn’t tried it.

He pointed out both PepsiCo, Inc., with its Trop 50 product that has 50% less sugar, and Coca-Cola, with its Vitaminwater 10 product that has 10 calories, chose to promote the benefits of their respective products instead of the use of a stevia-based sweetener as an ingredient.

While he could not speak for PepsiCo or Coca-Cola, Mr. Movitz said in his opinion companies might worry about causing confusion among consumers by emphasizing the ingredient itself.

He did point out that promotions for Breyers’ YoCrunch Yogurt, a 100-calorie product, mention the use of a blend of sugar and a stevia-based sweetener. Companies eventually will need to identify the source of product benefits, he said.

“Eventually at some point, sooner rather than later, it’s going to be important for marketers to talk about the use of the ingredient,” he said.

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