The value of natural sweetener stevia is forecast to grow to £167m by 2017, according to research group Mintel.

Published in Intense Sweeteners - International 2013, produced by Mintel and Leatherhead Food Research, the groups predict that fears over the health impact of sugar will provide a major boost for stevia, as well as other sweeteners.

The news comes as new group ‘Action on Sugar’ claims sugar has become as dangerous as alcohol or tobacco.

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The value of stevia as an additive for use in food and beverage manufacture totalled £66.7m in 2013, while aspartame, accounted for a value of £280m. However, this is forecast to drop to £210m by 2017.

The report states that, in 2009, only 5% of food and drink products launched using intense sweeteners used solely plant-derived sweeteners. A further 2% used a blend of artificial and plant-derived sweeteners. In contrast, last year, the share of plant-derived sweeteners rose to 15%, with a further 3% using a blend of artificial and plant-derived sweeteners.

The use of intense sweeteners in launches of food and drink products has grown over the past five years, from being used in 3.5% of all launches globally in 2009 to 5.5% in 2012, according to the report.

Laura Jones, food science analyst at Mintel, said: “Much of the growth in the global sweeteners market is set to be driven by growing consumer concerns over sugar intake, while the development of more plant-derived sweeteners is also anticipated to benefit the market.

“The gradual demise of sugar, yet desire for sweetened food and drink products, suggests good opportunities for intense sweeteners. Signs that the global market for intense sweeteners has reacted to this increased demand for ‘healthier’ sweetener solutions is already evident.”

Emma Gubisch, strategic insight manager at Leatherhead Food Research, added that as manufacturers work to create the right taste profile for stevia and other plant-derived sweeteners, “the artificial sweetener market still offers growth opportunities”.