Another drink company finds stevia too bitter
- Petal, a sparkling botanical drink made with rose water, removed stevia from its formulation last month after consumer criticism. The company replaced the sweetener with organic agave, according to Beverage Daily.
- Since launching last year, the brand is now planning national distribution and doubling its product offerings to include six beverage flavors. Petal is planning to launch in 1,000 stores in 2019, according to Food Navigator.
- "Sometimes consumers find stevia polarizing because it can leave quite an aftertaste. It's not necessarily bad, but some people don't like it," Founder and CEO Candice Crane told Beverage Daily. "So we wanted to make the drink a little more gulpable."
As consumers have lost interest in sugar, companies have turned to alternatives. About 71% of consumers read the sugar content on labels and 46% want to reduce sugar consumption, according to recent surveys. Food and beverage companies have invested in exploring more alternatives, and stevia has been a prominent substitute. But the non-caloric sweetener hasn't had the best track record.
Petal decided to remove the ingredient and replace it with agave because some consumers didn't like it. But it isn't the only beverage company that felt the product left a bad taste in consumers' mouths. In 2014, Coca-Cola started to quietly add stevia to Vitamin Water, but shoppers complained of the taste and the company returned to its original sugar recipe. The same year, PepsiCo released a stevia soda to offer an alternative to consumers who wanted to avoid sugar, but the ingredient's bitter taste hurt the launch. The Sprite brand in the UK also dropped stevia from its formula. Thom King, founder and CEO of clean label ingredients company Icon Foods, told Food Dive last year that stevia's taste reputation hurts its future as an alternative.
"Stevia has been around for a while, and a lot companies who were early adopters by and large didn't use it properly," King said. "So early adopters of stevia formed consumer sentiment that it has a bitter aftertaste."
Manufacturers have worked to improve the taste of stevia extracts. In 2017, Coca-Cola created a stevia-sweetened soda and claimed that it had no sugar, zero calories and eliminated the typical aftertaste of the ingredient by looking at dozens of molecules in the stevia plant to find the sweetest ones. Its not just soda brands looking to reformulate either. Other big brand names, including Kraft Heinz, Nestlé and Unilever, have worked to reformulate to reduce sugar and add alternatives like stevia.
But some have said that stevia can never replace sugar because of its bitter taste, so all stevia-based formulas would need to add in another sweetener to help the flavor. It hasn't been easy to find the perfect alternative to sugar or stevia. Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi previously said there are all-natural, zero-calorie sweeteners out there, but many of the options in the marketplace, and especially in soda, "don't taste that great."
Finding a sweetener that can replace sugar's texture and taste has been difficult for companies. Some companies have used aspartame to replace sugar, but many consumers stopped drinking diet soda because of concerns over the health impact of the artificial ingredient. New alternatives, like Amyris' sugar cane sweetener, will likely continue to pop up, but R&D for those could take a long time.
More companies are doing the same thing as Petal and turning to agave to sweeten food and beverages. It is becoming more popular. Kerry found that the top five sweeteners consumers prefer are honey, sugar, maple sugar, stevia and agave. But as companies continue to search for the ideal sugar alternative and reformulations start to replace even the replacements, stevia could see the same fate as sugar.
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