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Stevia, a plant sweetener to conquer the European market.

Stevia, a natural sweetener without calories, is about to conquer the European market, but food manufacturers, such as Coca Cola, have no intention of replacing aspartame, a controversial substance. After Japan, the United States, China and Australia, the European Commission has, in turn, authorized the use this week of stevia extracts, which are highly sugary. in certain categories of food, including dairy products, beverages, table sweeteners, breakfast cereals, and confectionery.France had already given its green light in 2010 to this plant native to South America,used for centuries by Guarani Indians.To remove its sweet components, the leaves of stevia are processed like tea, in hot water. Its sweetness is 200 to 300 times greater than that of sugar, while providing zero calories.


Stevia has the merit of being an alternative to criticized products such as aspartame,” says Jean-René Buisson, president of the National Association of Food Industries (Ania). But, according to him, if this product will “definitely make a breakthrough on the market (…) it will not tomorrow be a substitute for aspartame”. The debate on aspartame, still recently pointed at by its opponents for its real or supposed effects on health, “will obviously give a boost to stevia”, explains Xavier Terlet, founder of XTC, a food innovation consulting firm.

But in the current state, stevia must still find a “major” problem, its taste. According to Mr Terlet, manufacturers will develop new products rather than replace aspartame with stevia: “you can’t change the taste of Coca Light, otherwise it’s the evolution “licorice taste”

Following the Commission’s green light, Coca-Cola France announced the next launch of “major new innovations”. The French subsidiary of the American giant has been testing since 2010 a stevia version of its Fanta still drink on the French market. On the other hand, there is no question of launching a variation of a coca with stevia, says Coca-Cola.

The world leader in sodas reaffirms its “trust” in aspartame and its desire to develop a range of low-calorie products.

Danone wants to be careful. In 2010, the dairy giant launched a yoghurt in its range of stevia-based cuts, a product that “does not settle down very easily”, Danone admits. Because of its taste marked by notes of liquorice, in particular. The American group Merisant, leader in Europe with its brand Canderel (aspartame), sold in large stores, has been investing heavily in stevia for seven years. We have seen strong consumer demand for natural products (…) at the same time there is a real interest in reducing sugar consumption”, explains Hugues Pitre, Director General for Europe. In two years with its different brands (PureVia, Misura stevia and Canderel Green), Merisant claims a turnover of 16 million euros, which already represents nearly 30% of the sweetener sector. At the age of five, the group is counting on 40% of the French market.

The first to take such an initiative, the Système U distribution group announced in October its decision to ban aspartame from sodas sold under its brand and replace it with stevia. It is not a question of throwing the opprobre” on aspartame but it is a product “on which there is at least a controversy (…) our customers ask questions”, explains Thierry Desouches, spokesman of the distributor.

By Arielle VERLEY (AFP)