MUMBAI, INDIA — The aftertaste of products sweetened with stevia extracts ranks as perhaps the most challenging aspect of developing markets for products sweetened with the extracts, according to the position paper "Stevia as a Mainstream Sweetener! Emerging Sustainability & Market Challenges." Mumbai-based KnowGenix, a business research and growth strategy firm involved in chemical, material and energy practices, developed the paper.

"As the overall flavor depends heavily on the food matrix, there is no single solution to the flavor and sweetness issue," the paper said. "Hence, customization is needed. Besides, there are regional variations in taste, and companies are attempting to cater to different taste preferences. European consumers prefer a sweetness profile similar to sucralose whereas U.S. consumers prefer the sweetness of high-fructose corn syrup.

"As new product launches are being planed, masking flavors are likely to be the key ingredients deciding the market acceptability of stevia products. New stevia product launches are still in their infancy."

The position paper listed six major challenges facing stevia markets: supply reliability of high quality stevia leaves; access to extraction and refining technology; a competitive cost structure for upstream, mid-stream extraction and downstream production; shifts in regional taste preferences; consumer acceptance; and complexities in managing supply chain.

The stevia industry needs to develop reference standards for rebaudioside A, known as the sweetest part of the stevia leaf, since rebaudioside A is produced globally in different climatic and geographical regions, according to the paper. Impurities in rebaudioside A may include rebaudioside B, rebaudioside D, rubusoside, stevioside, steviol and steviolbioside.

"The reference standards are expected to confirm the identities and accurately quantify these impurities," the paper said.

Pricing is another issue.

"Prices vary widely between manufacturers for the same product, making the pricing a complex issue," the paper said. "It is critical for suppliers to rationalize stevia prices to enter the mainstream ingredient business. Economies of scale and distribution will also throw up new challenges, impacting the pricing."

The position paper was developed in preparation for the "Stevia World Europe" conference scheduled for Nov. 18 in Frankfurt, Germany.