Research from consumer market analyst company Canadean Ingredients, which studied almost 30,000 online articles, blog posts and forum discussions on sweeteners, showed more consumers were interested in the natural sweetener stevia than its alternatives.
The research group also claimed that stevia was receiving more positive attention than aspartame and sucralose, according to online data.
Canadean Ingredients said 58% of the consumer conversations analysed on the web were about stevia, while 28% were about aspartame and 14% about sucralose.
Only 10% of conversations, which were analysed through social media tracking, referred to aspartame in a positive light, compared to 50% referring to it negatively. 30% gave stevia a positive mention, compared to just 5% saying negative things.
A source close to the industry said looking at social media sites was not exactly an analysis of consumer opinion. “That’s the opinion of people who sit on Facebook and Twitter chatting about this subject.
“When you look at the worldwide conversations about sweeteners and aspartame, it is relatively few people talking about it and for the majority of them, [talking about] it is a hobby-horse.”
The source continued: “Quite a lot of research companies are making very superficial statements about the market.”
And the source said most launches such as stevia typically received a burst of interest initially before sales settled down. “That was the case when sucralose and even aspartame became available.”
Meanwhile, Canadean’s research said the majority of the articles analysed were about health concerns raised by sweeteners, and cited links to cancer, depression and memory loss.
It said aspartame was given particular attention in such conversations, despite the European Food Safety Authority's opinion earlier this week that the sweetener was safe for consumers at current recommended intake levels.
“Aspartame in particular has been linked to both memory loss and cancer," it said, adding that one study from Washington University School of Medicine, cited by 120 articles, had raised the issue of aspartame consumption leading to increasing brain tumour diagnoses.
However, Canadean researchers also said negative aspartame discussions were linked to positive terms “such as ‘a healthy alternative to sugar’ and as ‘a means to weight loss’”.
They also pointed out that, although more people had positive things to say about stevia, that product was still relatively unknown to many consumers.
M&MF Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls, called and waiting for Anita to get back.