The potential introduction of Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) as an alternative sweetener in New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master in Business Studies in Agribusiness, Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health, Massey University
This thesis reviews the literature on a naturally occurring, non caloric sweetener, Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni), a plant native to Paraguay, and analyses the potential for the introduction of Stevia and Stevia-based products as an alternative sweetener for selected groups of consumers in New Zealand. Stevia has been proved by a considerable amount of research to be a safe sweetener for people with diabetes, hyperglycaemia, digestive, obesity and skin problems. In other countries of the world including Japan, China, Israel and Germany, Stevia's unique combination of sweetness and health benefits has caught the attention of consumers. However, Stevia remains largely unknown in New Zealand. In terms of the use and understanding of Stevia and its commercial application, Japan is the world's most advanced country. The situation of Stevia in Japan, where artificial sweeteners are banned, is significantly different from its situation in New Zealand. The Food Standards Authority for Australia and New Zealand states that while Stevia, as a plant, is a permitted sweetener, Stevia extracts are not permitted. This ruling allows the full use and promotion of artificial sweeteners that are banned in Japan while restricting the use of Stevia, which has no restrictions in Japan. Two major health problems in New Zealand are diabetes and obesity (especially amongst Maori and Pacific Islanders), for which the introduction of Stevia and Stevia-based products in New Zealand as a substitute for other sweeteners has the potential to provide significant benefits. Responses of four groups (general public, herb experts, diabetics and Maori - the latter ones being the target groups) to Stevia were studied through a series of consumer focus group meetings. Most participants showed interest in using Stevia as a replacement for their current sweeteners. However, participants suggested that additional information and research are required for its wider use. According to the results of this study, participants suggested that Stevia could be used as: ➢ A plant to be grown in home gardens: having a Stevia plant allows growers to have a natural sweetener; ➢ An alternative sweetener in the form of processed Stevia products, and ➢ An ingredient in ready-to-eat products. The main findings of this research are: ➢ There is a potential market for Stevia in New Zealand; ➢ FSANZ regulations restricting the use of Stevia form an obstacle to its commercialisation in New Zealand; ➢ Participants of the focus groups prefer the powder form over other types of Stevia; and ➢ Food industries could use Stevia, assuming regulatory approval, as an ingredient in their products. For the potential introduction of Stevia in New Zealand a Product Development Process (PDP) is described. A number of areas for business activities and research into Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) are suggested. Keywords: Stevia, Stevia-based products, sweetener, natural, diabetes, obesity, Maori, artificial sweeteners, potential introduction, Product Development Process.