According to Nielsen’s Global Health and Wellness report, 62% of Americans say they want to reduce the amount of sugars in their diets. As transparent labeling rolls out on store shelves, shoppers’ awareness levels will increase as well.

That’s sweet news for the makers of alternative sweeteners and those who sell them. According to Carol May, CEO of Wisdom Natural Brands in Gilbert, AZ, Americans consume an average of 20 teaspoons of sugars per day.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), revised its Nutrition Facts labeling requirements based on the data showing it is difficult to meet nutrient needs and stay within recommended calorie limits if more than 10% of total daily calories come from added sugar. This is consistent with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. New Nutrition Facts labeling, which is starting to appear on shelves, includes “added sugars” in grams and as a percentage of Daily Value.

Full compliance was extended from July 26, 2018 to Jan. 1, 2020 for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales and those with less than $10 million get an extra year to comply – until Jan. 1, 2021.

“Transparency has become the watchword for food and beverage makers, as consumers seek out products they consider to be ‘clean label’,” says Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager at Cargill, Wayzata, MN.

A study by Transparency Market Research (TMR) projects the global market for natural sweeteners to experience modest growth, and to register a compound annual growth rate of 4.5% between 2017 and 2026 (1).

The shunning of sugar from the daily diet is what many now consider a macro trend as obesity, diabetes and overall health consciousness are on the rise. “I’ve noticed an increase in the number of people who love health and nutrition, and more people read labels and ingredients,” says Theresa Zingarapoli, director of sales at Health Garden, Spring Valley, NY, a natural sweetener company.

“Sweeteners” is a very broad area in food and beverage. There are nutritive sweeteners, non-nutritive sweeteners, natural sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, sugar substitutes and more. This article will look at the more popular sweeteners, so that you can steer your customers to the best choice for their diets and lifestyles.

AgaveAgave has gained popularity and a sterling reputation as a wonderful alternative to sugar because it boasts the low-glycemic index diabetics must have to protect their health, and animal-free origins vegans and others who gravitate towards plant-based products can also get on board with. However, that low-glycemic index is due in large part to fructose, reports Dr. Josh Axe. Agave, he says, has the highest fructose content of any commercial sweetener on the market. To give you an idea, compared to sugar or high fructose syrup which has a 1:1 fructose/glucose ratio of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, agave has nearly a 2:1 ratio (2). As such, the Journal of Diabetes Care published a list of nutrition recommendations for the management of diabetes suggesting that agave should not be consumed in large amounts. However, it doesn’t say not to eat it ever, so ask your diabetic customers to consider their diets before they buy it (3).

XylitolXylitol is heralded as beneficial because it allows manufacturers of chewing gums, mints, oral care products and products for those with diabetes to maintain they are sugar-free. It literally causes bad bacteria in the mouth to starve and die preventing dental caries as well as gingivitis. It can be found naturally in some fruits and vegetables, and multiple studies – one going back to 1965, conducted on humans over the course of a week – have found that it might raise blood sugar slightly within an hour or two of being ingested, but that the sugar levels then drop. Since it isn’t metabolized by insulin, it’s perfect for diabetics (4). That said, don’t let your customers take home xylitol-sweetened peanut butter for their pets – it can be fatal to dogs.

Coconut SugarProduced from the sap of a flower, coconut sugar comes in crystal form, block and liquid. With a sweetness much like brown sugar, it retains the nutrients that are found in the coconut palm. “Unlike table sugar, coconut sugar has naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, making it a healthy substitute for sugar for almost any use,” says David Rosenberg, food category manager, NOW, Bloomingdale, IL. It does have a different taste, though, so prepare your customers for that.

This sweetener is also rich in antioxidants. A study published earlier this year shows the browning process of the coconut sugar directly relates to the increase of the amount of antioxidants in the final product (5).

Raw HoneyHoney has been near and dear to our hearts since the beginning of history. It was favored by pharaohs as it was considered a sign of royalty, and regarded by the Greeks as a healing agent (6). Now, as consumers try to find natural means of sweetening a cup of tea, lemonade, or a bowl of oatmeal, honey has secured its place in this era, too. A report released by Fact.MR found that the global market for organic honey will continue to be influenced by a rise in the geriatric population, which has a need for nutritious foods (7).

The buzzword here is “raw.” Raw honey contains antioxidants called phenolic compounds. Also, because honey is made from plants, it has phytonutrients. Phytonutrients provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, which help you maintain good health. Some types of honey have as many antioxidants as fruits and vegetables. These nutrients are what make honey unique, but they disappear when honey is heavily processed, leading to the drive for raw honey.

Consume with caution, however, for even though raw honey provides beneficial bacteria and nutrients, it can also carry harmful bacteria such as botulism. This is particularly dangerous for babies, so you should never feed raw honey to babies less than a year old (8).

Monk Fruit ExtractMonk fruit, also referred to as lo han guo, is a small round fruit grown in Southeast Asia. It’s been safely used in Eastern medicine as a cold and digestive aid. In the Western world it’s now being used to sweeten foods and beverages. Monk fruit sweeteners contain zero calories, resulting in products often labeled “light” or “reduced calories.”

Elaine Yu, president of Layn USA, said Layn has devised a method of combining monkfruit with stevia, creating a variety of sweeteners for any application that will allow for the ideal flavor and mouthfeel of a product that would otherwise have been made from cane sugar. She also says Layn is marketing its products as plant-based, in order to avoid the confusing label of “natural” and to better comply with FDA regulations.

It is also Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). Governments in the U.S., Canada, China, Japan, and Singapore have concluded that monk fruit sweeteners are safe for the general population, including children, people with diabetes, and women who are pregnant or nursing (9).

SteviaStevia is an herbal sweetening ingredient that’s been used in food and beverages by South American natives for many centuries and in Japan since the mid-1970s. Stevia has an interesting relationship with the FDA: “certain high-purity steviol glycosides,” such as those used in sugar replacement packets, are GRAS, but raw stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts are not, and therefore cannot be used in food (10). Still, it can be—and is—sold as a dietary supplement. “We see tremendous upside for stevia and believe there is market space for other ‘more natural’ alternatives to sugar,” Chris von der Linden, SVP, Consumer Shopper Marketing, and John Crawford, VP, Client Insights-Dairy, with Information Resources Inc. (I.R.I.), said in a joint presentation at the International Sweetener Colloquium in Orlando. Stevia is in soft drinks, dairy, sports nutrition products, cereals, ice cream, and spreads, to name a few.

There’s more to stevia than meets the eyes, according to Mark Eisenacher of Pyure. When asked what he wishes more retailers knew about Pyure’s products, he said, “That not all stevia products are the same. Consumers are increasingly aware of the myriad of taste profiles and bulking agents.” Stevia contains compounds that have differing levels of sweetness, such as Rebaudioside A, Reb B, Reb C, or Reb M, and the composition can affect the sweetness level. Stevia products are changing as formulators try to make the product appeal to consumers taste-wise, particularly by minimizing the metallic aftertaste or supplementing with allulose, a low-calorie sugar that is not metabolized in the body. FlavorHealth has a product called Bitter Balance specifically meant to improve the taste of stevia. For those customers that tried stevia products years or months ago and hated them, suggest they try again.

Eisenacher indicated potential future trends that are worth keeping an eye on. “The market for stevia is increasingly bifurcated into leaf derived and engineered molecules. We are very interested to see how labeling and regulation impacts pricing, demand and innovation for different formats.”WF


1. Transparency Market Research, “Natural Sweeteners Market (Product Types - High Intensity, Low Intensity; End User - Food and Beverages, Pharmaceuticals, Direct Sales, Other End Users; Application - Bakery Goods, Sweet Spreads, Confectionery and Chewing Gums, Beverages, Dairy Products, Others) - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2017 – 2026,” 01/18. Accessed 10/08/18. 2. Ethan Boldt, “Agave Nectar: Good or Bad?” 01/28/15. Accessed 10/08/18. 3. Alison Evert, et al, “Nutrition Therapy Recommendations for the Management of Adults With Diabetes,” Diabetes Care, 37(1), S120-S143 (2014). 4. S. Yamagata, et al, “Clinical effects of xylitol on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in diabetes,” Lancet, 2, 918-921 (1965). 5. Erminawati Karseno, et al, “Effect of pH and Temperature on Browning Intensity of Coconut Sugar and Its Antioxidant Activity,” Food Research, 1-17 (2017). 6. The Honey Association, “A brief history of honey.” Accessed 10/08/18. 7. Fact.MR, “Global Organic Honey Market: Rising Demand Leads to Sustained Growth during the Period 2017-2022,” 02/01/18. 8. Rena Goldman, “The Top 6 Raw Honey Benefits.” 02/19/15. Accessed 10/08/18. 9. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Agency Response Letter GRAS Notice No. GRN 000627.” Accessed 10/08/18. 10. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Has Stevia been approved by FDA to be used as a sweetener?” Accessed 10/08/18. 11. Elizabeth Green, “Stevia Leaf marketing intensifies amid North and Latin American NPD boom,” 9/21/18. Accessed 10/08/18.