Monk fruit extracts may at some point give stevia a run for its money when it comes to the natural high-intensity sweetener sector, Carl Jorgensen, director, global consumer strategy-wellness, Daymon Worldwide, told Food Dive. "Stevia, of course, is way ahead," he said.
High-intensity sweeteners remain popular with consumers looking for low or zero-calorie options, and manufacturers continue to respond. Between 2014 and 2019, the category is projected to expand with a 2% CAGR; natural sweetener, stevia, is projected to expand with a 3% CAGR during the same period, according to Euromonitor International. These numbers validate the possibilities for natural sweeteners, including those utilizing monk fruit extracts.
Monk fruit is stepping out of the shadows of the stevia sector, according to a report by John George, ingredients analyst, Euromonitor. Initiatives such as those by global industry leader (70% of the global market), Monk Fruit Corp., where it doubled its supply in 2015 to keep up with demand, underscore the potential for monk fruit to grab a bigger share of the high-intensity sweetener market. Monk Fruit Corp. partners with Tate & Lyle, which distributes the product through its Purefruit brand.
This month, Archer Daniels Midland announced a partnership with GLG Life Tech Corp. to bring stevia and monk fruit sweeteners to customers.
About a melon
Monk fruit is a small melon grown in southern China and northern Thailand. Mogroside V, the major sweet component of monk fruit, also known as luo han guo, is 350 times sweeter than sucrose, according to CCM Data and Business Intelligence.
The biggest producer and exporter of mogroside V is China; output volume hit 260 tons in 2014, with more than 90% exported to the United States and Japan.
"Canadean projects that demand [of monk fruit extracts] will continue to grow by 5% a year through 2017," Jorgensen said. The combination of sugar reduction and the clean label trend are boosting the use of natural sweeteners with more sophisticated blends, said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation, Innova Market Insights, in a statement. Although launch activity of products with monk fruit are small compared to those with stevia, interest is rising. 64% of the global soft drink launches that included monk fruit occurred in the United States, according to Innova.
Additionally, Euromonitor estimates volumes of more than 450 tons of monk fruit extract this year, assuming a 1% replacement of total high-intensity sweetener volumes.
Positioned for success
These extracts are FDA GRAS-approved, and are found in products ranging from tabletop sweeteners to beverages, baked goods, yogurts, sauces, desserts, and candies. Monk fruit extracts have made their way to the mainstream as ingredients in RTD items from Starbucks, and Chobani yogurt, George said.
He said suppliers could see increases in the use of the sweetener if they "accept that monk fruit is a premium ingredient and market it accordingly." The development process remains too expensive for use in mainstream applications. Monk fruit extracts are derived from the fruit; no artificial versions are being produced at this time, Jorgensen noted.
Growing monk fruit is difficult, with seeds taking months to germinate. The portion of the fruit used to develop pure sweet monk fruit extract is relatively small, Jorgensen noted, which means the majority of the fruit, which is bitter, is discarded. "This will constrain supply for some time as the industry figures out how to grow more, and more quickly, and extract the sweetening portion of the fruit more efficiently," Jorgensen said.
"Monk fruit has a slightly different flavor profile, which makes it more suitable in different products than stevia," Jorgensen said. "As with stevia, you will see some of the negative aspects of the taste profile improve as the extraction process becomes more developed and refined by food technologists."