LONDON — Consumers may express an interest in non-caloric sweeteners, but caloric sweeteners still dominate the market. In 2013, consumers around the world consumed an estimated 180 million tons of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, according to the market research firm Canadean. The figure represents 80% of the overall sweetener market. Low and non-caloric sweeteners represent the remaining 20%, or 34 million tons in sugar equivalents.

Natural sweeteners have received a significant amount of attention in the past five years, because of the clean label, natural trend. In 2013, for example, approximately 20% of new non-caloric soft drinks featured natural sweeteners, according to Canadean. The research firm expects the category to continue to grow, with North America, Europe and Japan offering the most potential.

Although the natural sweetener category is growing, it’s rising from low volumes and it will take years to catch up with the market leaders in the non-caloric category. In 2013 the soft drink industry consumed close to 700 tons of stevia-based ingredients, versus 12,300 tons of aspartame, or 8,700 tons of Acesulfame K. The largest natural sweetener on the market is stevia, but Canadean said it sees additional potential in other sweeteners, such as monk fruit.

The small volumes should not come as a surprise as natural sweeteners are still in their exploratory phase and manufacturers are still working to identify the best formulations for the use of steviol glycoside in beverages, according to Canadean.

In addition, not all consumers embrace this distinct taste and some beverage brands, such as the Coca-Cola Co.’s Glaceau Vitamin Water, have combined the sweetener with sugar. In the U.S., Coca-Cola has had to reverse engineer the Vitamin Waters back to its original formulation as they realized Americans didn’t appreciate the taste of stevia. 

However, stevia has its advantages, as Karin Nielsen, ingredient analyst at Canadean, explained.

“Stevia may be more suited for certain products such as teas, nectars, and juices, as it has an ability to enhance the taste of the natural ingredients,” she said.