Has sugar lost its sweet spot? Paraguayan plant upends market

Mon Oct 20, 2014 1:30pm EDT
 
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By Chris Prentice and Marcy Nicholson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The maker of America's top sugar brand Domino Sugar is launching its first no-calorie "natural" sweetener extracted from the stevia plant in Paraguay, the strongest sign yet that the upstart product is threatening to eat into raw-sugar demand.

In less than a decade, the sweet-tasting stevia powder has stolen a big chunk of the $1.3-billion global market for artificial sweeteners as more health-conscious consumers use it in what they eat and drink.

Consumers' appetite for artificial sweeteners like Cumberland Packing Co.'s Sweet'N Low and corn syrup has waned amid rising interest in foods perceived as natural.

The powerful corporations that dominate the global sugar market are also facing slowing demand, especially in the United States, for refined sugar that is used in everything from coffee to cakes. The U.S. slowdown is due in part to concerns about extremely high rates of obesity and diabetes.

Big Sugar's response? To offer new non-sugar products that are not calorific, are suitable for diabetes sufferers and, more importantly, are seen as a more attractive alternative for health-conscious consumers than artificial sweeteners.

"If you look down the sweeteners aisle at any supermarket, there are stevia products there. Whatever consumers are looking for, we want to provide," Domino President and Chief Executive Officer Brian O'Malley told Reuters.

ASR Group, which sells Domino Sugar and is the world's largest refiner of cane sugar, will launch its new product by the end of the year - its first to be made solely from the plant extract rather than a blend of sugar and stevia.

For ASR Group, which also owns the Tate & Lyle brand, it's a bold move: sugar represents 98 percent of its business.   Continued...

 
A crop of Stevia is seen in Asuncion, Paraguary, in this file photo taken July 24, 2007. Stevia, the increasingly popular no-calorie "natural" sweetener extracted from a Paraguayan plant, has stolen a big portion of the $1.3 billion global market for artificial sweeteners.    REUTERS/Jorge Adorno