Stevia might be a more natural sweetener, but it’s not as easy as it seems to get that message across.

Consumers are definitely looking for the most natural sources of foods and drinks. ‘Natural’ is a key word that alleviates fear of what’s in the food for many. It is becoming almost a shortcut to signalling safe food.

But for consumers not necessarily in the know about natural sweeteners, the name ‘stevia’ sounds like yet another artificial sweetener. This may be a problem in the future if brands are to lead their communications with it - they will have to work hard to counter misperception.

Imagery is key to getting stevia’s natural credentials across. It relies on natural imagery and/or a leaf image to convey its value and benefit. Coke Life, for example, has tried to differentiate and convey the natural source via its new green pack colour.

Much more education about natural sugars is critical to stevia gaining real mainstream traction. There has been so much confusion and concern about even the good natural sugars present in real fruit, there is no wonder consumers are confused.

I think taste is also a key factor in uptake. While the natural aspects can win them over at fixture, if the taste does not live up to the expectation, the new customer is soon lost. Many current stevia products pass the instant taste test, but leave a residual bitterness. Trop50, though, has done a great job on taste.

“The name ‘stevia’ sounds like yet another artificial sweetener”

Many brands also confuse the message on packs. Canderel packs mention stevia plant “extracts,” not even qualifying how much it contains to convey a sense of purity. Tate & Lyle Light at Heart stevia blend is more easily understandable. Similarly, Waitrose’s ‘reduced calorie with stevia’ messaging on its juices. At least the stevia aspect is being linked to a direct benefit. Coke Life does too, by linking to an implicitly healthier life outcome. Trop50 doesn’t bother mentioning it at all, it just states ‘no artificial sugars’ and tastes great too. Maybe that’s the way forward?

At the opposite end of the scale, Cavalier chocolate shouts about stevia on its packs. For me, that takes away every single ounce of indulgence and raises a bigger question about how indulgent products work with stevia. Does what works for sports nutrition have the same effect on delicious treats? I’m not convinced.

More work needs to be done to get across the sweetness of the leaf. There’s currently too much bombardment across multiple categories with just ‘stevia’ plonked on a label. While there’s absolutely no doubt stevia-based products will grow, I really wish brands would stop wasting precious money on poorly executed and thought-through comms. It’s a distraction to growth.

Claire Nuttall is founding partner of Thrive