• Stevia is a plant native to South America that has been used for centuries as a sweetener and for other purposes, such as to lower blood sugar.
  • Stevia is commercially cultivated most significantly in China, Paraguay, Colombia, India, Kenya, and Brazil, with small-scale plantations or trials in many other parts of the world, ranging from Vietnam to the United States.
  • Several natural substances can be derived from the stevia plant (scientifically known as steviol gylcosides, which includes glucose as part of its structure). One of the best-tasting and sweetest of all the stevial glycosides is high purity Rebaudioside-A (Reb-A), which can be up to 400 times sweeter than sugar.
  • Markets like Japan have been using stevia as a sweetener for decades. In 2008, the US gave regulatory approval to use the ingredient, a decision that is starting to drive sales and volumes.
  • Some of its key applications include confectionery, bakery products, pickles, ice cream, seafood products and soft drinks, as well as table-top sweeteners in Asian nations.
  • France and Switzerland are two European markets that allow stevia to be used. In April 2010, The European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) recommended that the EU should clear the sweetener. A decision from Brussels is expected in the first half of 2011.
  • In 2009, the value of stevia sales stood at US$79m - or just 6% of the global sweeteners market. That year, some 2.2m tonnes of stevia were sold, equating to 2% of volumes.
  • According to Leatherhead, consumer awareness of stevia remains "limited" to markets like the US. Suppliers like PureCircle are working on improving awareness, with websites like The Global Stevia Institute.