Now Thailand has been given approval to use stevia in food and beverages, Indonesia is the only Southeast Asian nation waiting for the authorities to give the regulatory go-ahead for the natural sweetener.
“We have only had approval from the Thai FDA since August,” said Kevin Chong, PureCircle’s sales director for Southeast Asia and Korea. “It's been a long time coming and of course we are seeing a lot of interest from our Thai customers now they have stevia to work with.”
The approval has been in the process for the last four years, with politics holding up the final decision. The main concern of the authorities has been to decide on the maximum suitable dose for the ingredient.
With approvals now in Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, Indonesia is the only main country where stevia hasn’t been given the rubber stamp.
“That's a big market,” added Chong. “We would love to have that approval but they are just trying to settle up some dosing issues. The market there knows all about stevia already, as it has been used in health formulations for some time.”
According to one stevia industry veteran, who asked not to be named, Indonesia has already approved stevia in general but has not yet gazetted its daily intake levels.
“That's holding back the industry,” he told us.
“A lot of players have been taking a backseat approach until the proper regulatory definition is up. Nobody wants to waste their time formulating something when the limits are not set. As for Thailand, it has been published so now it's a free for all.”
While Reb A 97 is the key stevia grade around the world, our source does not expect it to be as much in demand in the new Southeast Asian markets.
“There are other grades that are equally functional yet more cost effective. So it depends on the players—what they can come up with that is cost-effective, because let's not forget that Asia is not Europe.
“Affordability can be an issue, and if you go to some markets, they won't ship in high grades. So it boils down to dollars and cents.”
There are also challenges in the market, especially with many potential customers still not believing it is safe, in spite of regulatory approval both locally and internationally.
“There is a need to educate the industry that they need to use stevia. We also have to start giving companies an incentive to launch new products that contain stevia.”