Truvia, Cargill's no-cal sweetener made from the stevia plant, recently surpassed Sweet 'N Low to become the #2 sugar substitute in the country, according to AC Nielsen.
The two-year-old brand had a 12.8% share of tabletop sugar substitute sales in U.S. food/mass/drug retailers for the four weeks ending March 19 -- still small next to Splenda's approximately 60%, but growing by leaps and bounds (it had an 8.2% as of last October). Truvia surpassed Equal's share of the substitutes market last year, and is now in more than 5 million U.S. households, according to Nielsen.
The brand's tabletop sales grew by 79% last year, making it a $46 million business, according to Zanna McFerson, assistant VP and business director for Truvia. Among natural sugar substitutes -- a rapidly growing field of stevia-based sweeteners that includes the PureVia brand made by a subsidiary of Equal parent Merisant (developed in partnership with PepsiCo) and Sun Crystals by Splenda maker McNeil Nutritionals, to name just two -- Truvia commands a 66% share, McFerson reports.
Putting the market in perspective, Mintel International estimated that U.S. sales of stevia-based sweeteners surpassed $95 million in 2009 (up from $21 million in 2008), and could exceed $2 billion by the end of 2011.
And the tabletop side of the balance sheet is the tip of the iceberg, compared with the market for sweeteners for prepackaged foods and beverages. A Freedonia Group sweetener analyst recently told Fast Company that that market is worth trillions annually on a global basis.
Cargill -- the $108-billion, privately held agri-giant that counts high-fructose corn syrup among its innumerable products and businesses -- doesn't reveal its revenues from use of Truvia in foods and beverages. However, it reports that Truvia rebiana is now an ingredient in more than 30 food and beverage products, including Glaceau Vitaminwater Zero (2010 sales: $93 million), Coca-Cola Sprite Green, YoCrunch 100 Calorie Packs, Kraft Crystal Light Pure (first-year sales for 2010: nearly $14 million) and Minute Maid Pomegranate Tea.
And the list keeps growing. Recent Truvia-sweetened launches include a Smuckers line of no-added-sugar jams and jellies and Firefly Vodka's Skinny Tea line, reports McFerson.
From the start, Truvia's business plan was to win over consumers via the tabletop product and thereby woo food and beverage makers looking for a substitute for sugar, HFCS and artificial sweeteners -- in turn driving more consumer demand, according to Fast Company, which credits McFerson with devising that strategy, as well as overseeing development of the Truvia product.
Not surprisingly, Cargill has provided the Truvia tabletop product (available in a spoonable format as well as packets) with plenty of marketing support. Last October, it launched a multimillion-dollar integrated campaign (creative agency Ogilvy Chicago) spanning television, print, online and social media.
The "Honestly Sweet" television spots, featuring an original tune sung in a "natural, not-so-perfect" voice by an aspiring singer/ actress from Minnesota, are a series of vignettes dramatizing the struggles that women go through trying to balance their craving for sweetness with their desires for weight control and consuming natural products.
Examples: a woman trying unsuccessfully to resist donuts tantalizingly left out on a plate by office mates, and two women looking guilty as they share a rich dessert in restaurant. In each spot, the women are shown discovering Truvia as a "natural, balanced" solution for sweetness cravings.