Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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4 facts about the artificial sweetener industry

October 5, 2016

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As consumers rethink their approach to additives, the artificial sweetener industry may be hitting a sour patch. ("Choose you this day" image by "frankieleon" via flickr CC BY 2.0)
As consumers rethink their approach to additives, the artificial sweetener industry may be hitting a sour patch. ("Choose you this day" image by "frankieleon" via flickr CC BY 2.0)

Since the discovery of saccharin in 1879, artificial sweeteners have played a major role in America’s diet. Here are four business story angles worth pursuing.

Declining numbers in diet soda 

Artificial sweeteners are generally hundreds of times sweeter than natural sugar. However, a decline in the sales of diet soda indicates sweetener may not satisfy consumers’ needs for real sugar. Business Insider reports that Americans’ consumption of diet soda has fallen by more than 27 percent since 2005, much faster than other beverages. And the decline is speeding up. In 2015, the volume of Diet Pepsi consumption dropped by 5.8 percent, while Diet Coke dropped by 5.6 percent, according to Beverage Digest data.

Coffee calculations

In February, U.S. News reported that a Starbucks’ drink might contain as many as 25 teaspoons of sugar, three times the recommended daily adult intake, according to an analysis by Sugar, a health advocacy group. In response, Starbucks told CNBC that it plans to reduce added sugar by 25 percent by the end of 2020 and affirms that it offers sugar-free natural sweetener and sugar-free syrup.

The rise of natural sweeteners

As people strive to limit chemical additives, the sales of natural sweeteners like stevia have grown. Made from sustainable and easy-to-grow plants, stevia is becoming the sweetener of choice for many companies, especially in beverages. Persistence Market Research estimates the global stevia market will grow from $347 million in 2014 to $565 million in 2020. New Food and Drug Adminisitration-manadated regulations requiring labels to indicate how much sugar has been added to a product are also making an impact. FoodDive reports that stevia producer PureCircle is making a $100 million investment to expand its global farming footprint.

Call for non-altered food

A change in consumer preferences might pose yet another challenge for sweeteners. Industry experts report that a desire for fresher and healthier foods is forcing big food companies to buy into the organic and natural food markets. Harry Balzer, vice president of The NPD Group as well as a national expert on food and diet trends, believes consumers appear to be avoiding artificially produced foods and beverages “improved” to make them healthier. Instead, consumers are favoring unaltered products.

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