A range of chocolate confectionery using natural sweetener stevia instead of sugar is set to hit UK shelves ­early next year.

In a UK first, The Cavalier Company, which sells stevia chocolate products through Target in the US, plans to launch 20 SKUs here in January through UK distributor House of Sarunds. The range will include milk, white, dark, nut and fruit chocolate lines.

Herbal extract stevia is also used by drinks giants ­including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in the US and is ­expected to be given parliamentary approval for use within the EU before the end of this year.

Stevia carries a premium over other sweeteners, and House of Sarunds said the range would be "marginally" more expensive than other premium chocolate. The company, which also handles UK distribution for Guylian, claimed the range would trigger a revolution in UK confectionery.

"There is a great demand for zero-sugar chocolate confectionery products in the UK," said director Lucio Forgione, who predicted other confectionery brands would follow suit.

Despite success in other product categories, stevia was unlikely to have significant impact on the UK confectionery market, said Mintel director of innovation and insight David Jago. "Confectionery is indulgence-driven and consumers are responding to portion control, rather than going for products carrying health claims," he claimed.

Stevia-based chocolate has been available in Switzerland for a few years, but has not set the world alight, Jago added. "Nor have any of the big manufacturers tried to copy these smaller brands," he said.