Monk fruit extract is currently a premium ingredient, but given time it has potential to compete with stevia as a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners.
'All natural' is already an established trend in the sweetener market, with stevia taking all the limelight. Over the last 12 months, stevia has become mainstream and is rapidly becoming popular amongst health conscious consumers. Monk fruit extract, or luo han guo, is a potentially significant alternative. Euromonitor International reported on Tate & Lyle's purchase of exclusive distribution rights in October 2011 for BioVittoria's PUREFRUIT brand sweetener, but how has monk fruit extract progressed in the sweetener market since then?
Monk fruit extract is a high intensity, zero-calorie sweetener, and can be used in blends with sucrose, fructose and erythitol. Although it is yet to be approved for use in Europe, progress has been made in the US with BioVittoria and Amax NutraSource receiving GRAS status for their monk fruit extracts. BioVittoria estimates that its product is being used in 30-40 products across the US.
Currently, monk fruit extract's use as an ingredient is limited to small brands, although larger players are slowly trickling through. Kashi, whose parent company is cereal giant Kellogg's, uses monk fruit extract in its Honey SunShine breakfast cereal, shown below. Other brands using monk fruit extract include SoDelicious almond and coconut milk drinks, ice cream and yoghurt products and Bear Naked breakfast cereals.
Kashi Breakfast cereal
Like stevia, monk fruit extract has not replaced sweeteners in existing products, but is being used mainly in new product development. This is good news for artificial high intensity sweeteners, which continue to grow globally, albeit slowly compared to stevia. The forecast CAGR for each high intensity sweetener is compared in the graph below.
Growth of High Intensity Sweeteners, World
Key industry players believe that monk fruit extract, like stevia, will eventually become mainstream. As a fruit, consumers trust that the extract will deliver a naturally sweet taste, and increasing awareness of natural, zero-calorie sweeteners amongst health conscious consumers has the potential to create a strong demand. With no bitter aftertaste, it is much more versatile than stevia and can be used in a wide range of food and beverage products. But what monk fruit extract cannot do for the foreseeable future is compete with stevia's numerous multi-million dollar marketing campaigns which have made it so commercially successful.
Over the next few years, monk fruit extract may become more than just a sweetener, as researchers look to harness antioxidants and polyphenols from the fruit as well as the sweet mogroside compounds. While it has strong potential, monk fruit extract is currently twice the price of stevia. If the Chinese Government continues to show an interest in the crop and the price of monk fruit extract falls, then stevia may have some tough competition. For now, however, monk fruit extract remains a premium ingredient.