Research, states that the demand for sweeteners in Nigeria is projected to reach 2.15 million metric tons by 2026, up from 2.11 million metric tons in 2021. However, the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) has mobilised stakeholders to commercialise production of all the plant species in the country. BINTA SHAMA reports.
Sugar and honey
For centuries, study shows that honey and sugar have been used to sweeten food and beverages. Today, a range of sweeteners have been developed to provide low-calorie alternatives to sugar. Some of the sweeteners such as acesulfame K (E950), aspartame (E951), erythritol (E968), saccharin (E954), sorbitol (E420), steviol glycosides (E960), sucralose (E955) and xylitol (E967) have been approved for industrial use in a number of countries. Some of the sweeteners, often called “intense sweeteners”, provide an intense sweet taste with little or no calories. Rules for the use of sweeteners are laid down in several countries regulations on food and additives such as in the European Commission regulation on food additives. Natural sweeteners are extracted from plant sources (e.g. stevia) or produced by animals (e.g. honey), whereas artificial sweeteners are manufactured through industrial processing. The rising awareness on need for nutritious and well-being food items among consumers acts as a driving force to the growth of the sweeteners industry.
In view of the increasing interest of consumers in sweeteners consumption, the global sweetener manufacturers have been witnessing robust year-on-year growth for the past few years owing to the rising preference for low-sugar food products, coupled with an extensive application range of sweeteners. The global sweeteners market size was valued at USD 94.48 billion in 2021 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.4% from 2022 to 2030. The high growth rate is being propelled by the fast-paced lifestyle and the increasing preference for convenience foods. Furthermore, increased consumption of soft drinks, especially carbonated soft drinks, is expected to drive the demand for sweeteners in globally.
Due to the soaring occurrence of diabetes and obesity worldwide, the demand for low-calorie sweeteners, is increasing as the majority of the health-conscious consumers are choosing products comprising natural sugar substitutes as a result of lesser side effects as compared to artificial sugar substitutes. Diabetes is among the foremost diseases that are on the increase globally. Food nutritionists believed that the major cause of this is excessive usage of sugar which leads to obesity. For instance, a study in 2020 by the National Diabetes Statistics issued by the United States Department of Health & Human Services indicated that the number of people living with diabetes in the U.S. was 10.5% in 2018. Likewise, the occurrence of obesity accounted to be 40.0% among young adults aged 20 to 39 years. Natural sugar substitutes do not contain carbohydrates and therefore, generally does not raise blood sugar levels. The use low of calorie sweeteners is consequently being encouraged by governments across the globe due to the health benefits.
The use of sweeteners
The use of sweeteners in the pharmaceuticals segment is expected to expand at the fastest CAGR of 3.3% during the forecast period as sweeteners are used as active pharmaceutical ingredients or excipients for modern formulations, such as consumer-friendly lozenges or chewable tablets and gummies. Sweeteners such as polyol and high-intensity sweeteners are also being widely used due to their sweet taste and tooth-friendliness.
Among other pro health benefits of sweeteners such as xylitol and mannitol are reduction in brain swelling and acute kidney failure. They act as osmotic diuretics and help remove excess water from the body. Furthermore, they are being used in sugar-free medicinal syrups, tablets, and capsules on account of their binding, sweetening, taste masking, and coating properties.
From a scientific point of view, evidence on sweeteners and health effects in people indicates that sweeteners improve cardio metabolic risk factors. Furthermore, polyols and intense sweeteners have been shown to prevent tooth decay, and EFSA acknowledges that compared to table sugar, sweeteners reduce blood sugar levels after eating. In addition, sweeteners may be added to non-food products to modify consumer behavior (such as in tobacco) rather than for calorie reduction purposes.
Sweeteners are marketed globally in both the solid and liquid forms. The solid form held the largest share of over 70.0% in 2021. They are available in solid, crystalline or powdered forms owing to the different functional benefits and ease of transportation, packaging, stability, and their wide industrial applications. The liquid sweeteners on the other hand are projected to expand at a CAGR of 2.9% from 2022 to 2030. The liquid form is used in food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, personal care and cosmetics industries.
Demand for sweeteners
The demand for sweeteners in Nigeria is projected to reach 2.15 million metric tons by 2026, up from 2.11 million metric tons in 2021. This represents an average growth rate of 0.3% each year since 2017. During the same period, available statistics shows that the production capacity of sweeteners in Nigeria will only rise to meager 53,000 metric tons by 2026, from 45,000 metric tons produced in 2021. This represents an average growth rate of 2.7% annually since 2017. Thus, there is need for a gregarious development of the sector in the country in order to reduce the cost of importation and for the country to benefit from the increasing revenue generated from the sales of sweeteners globally. For instance, the revenue in the sweeteners segment amounts to US$169.50bn in 2023. The market is expected to grow annually by 7.37% (CAGR 2023-2027). Presently, the highest revenue of US$112,100.00 m was generated in China in 2022.
Sweet sorghum, a multipurpose plant has been developed for production of glucose syrup by the Council. Nigeria requires an estimated 90,000 metric tons of glucose syrup annually for use in food, soft drink, confectionery and pharmaceutical industries. However, only about 20 % of this is being sourced locally. The juice from the stalk can be used for sugar syrup or bio-alcohol, its grains for human consumption and its stovers and baggase for animal consumptions. In addition, sweet sorghum has higher ethanol yield per hectare and better resistance to adverse climatic or environmental conditions than similar crops. Depending on the condition, the yield per ha of sweet sorghum grains and stalks are 3–7 tonnes and 54–69 tonnes respectively. Sweet sorghum is a plant with C4 photosynthesis pathway.
Therefore, its photosynthetic rate and dry matter production per unit of inputs are more than those of other sugar producing crops like sugar cane. The Council is collaborating with Sanglian Technology Development Centre (STDC) in China which has developed sweet sorghum varieties with good qualities such as short duration of between 80 -133 days maturity period and biomass yield of about 96MT/Ha and sugar content of 19-28% brix. Among the initiatives undertaken by RMRDC under this direction include the development and patenting of three (3) different varieties in collaboration with Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), ABU Zaria.
Likewise, RMRDC has carried out field trials of sugar beet in Plateau, Niger and Nasarawa states as well as the FCT. The trials established that sugar beet can effectively grow well in Nigeria. Laboratory analysis of harvested sugar beet from the experimental locations compared favourably with what was obtained in other countries where sugar beet is grown. This finding encouraged the Council to embark on sugar beet production as alternative source of raw material for the sugar industry in Nigeria. RMRDC is partnering with the Niger State Government and PASUA USA Agro Limited on the development of sugar beet value chain in the country.
The Council has also collaborated with Kong Associates in Shanghai, China, to promote the development of Stevia in Nigeria. Improved Stevia varieties were imported from the plantations established by Kong Associates in the Ahafo Region of Ghana and multi-locational trials have been carried out in different ecological zones in Nigeria in collaboration with members of the Stevia Producers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria. The reproduce able results indicated that it performs well in the North Central and South West parts of the country. Extracts from Stevia rebaudiana has been found to be 300 times sweeter than sugar, while possessing some health benefits especially for diabetics and high blood pressure patients. As the global stevia market is expected to generate a market growth of more than 7% during a projected period of 2016-2023, RMRDC is promoting the commercial cultivation and processing of sweetener from this crop. The stevia plant produce leaves packed with super-sweet compounds that remain stable even after the leaves have been dried. Stevia leaves have been used to sweeten teas and beverages for centuries.
To create wealth and reduce poverty
In addition, the Council has also developed a 75 kg/batch sorbitol production pilot plant using cassava as the primary raw material. This is important as Nigeria is one of the highest producers of cassava globally. Sobitol which is a sugar polyhydroxyl alcohol occurs naturally in certain fruits.