Kraft Touts Wonders of Stevia for New Crystal Light Entry

Kraft Foods is preparing to give consumers another taste of stevia.

The food giant is launching Crystal Light Pure Fitness, which it claims is “the first nationally available low-calorie fitness beverage” made using the all-natural sweetener. (Stevia, also used as a sugar substitute, comes from a plant grown in South America and Asia.) Support includes TV plus print ads in Glamour, Us Weekly and People magazines this month touting the drink mix’s lack of artificial ingredients. Pure Fitness contains Truvia, a brand of stevia introduced by food producer Cargill, and which Coca-Cola also uses in beverages like Odwalla and Sprite Green.

Kraft’s launch is the company’s first major entry into a new, fast-growing category. It comes after the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of stevia as a sweetener in late 2008. (Prior to that, stevia was primarily found in dietary supplements, though the FDA banned it from commercial use for health reasons.) Since then, sales have taken off. For the year ended July 2009, dollar sales of stevia-enhanced foods, beverages and tabletop sweeteners sold in food, drug, mass and natural supermarket channels hit $100 million. Sales—primarily fueled by new product introductions—are estimated to reach $2 billion in the U.S. by 2011, per market research firm Mintel.

Kraft hopes to capitalize on that growth. Roxanne Bernstein, refreshment beverages marketing director at Kraft, said the product targets someone who is “very health minded, is looking to avoid artificial sweeteners as much as possible” and is also physically active.

TV ads, by mcgarrybowen, show women boxing, swimming, running and drinking Pure Fitness, which contains electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Tagline: “New Crystal Light. Water your body.” Spending on the campaign was not disclosed. Kraft spent $40 million promoting Crystal Light in 2009, per the Nielsen Co.

Kraft is not the only company to flood the stevia-infused fitness drink category. Coca-Cola earlier this year launched Vitaminwater Zero, a line that contains both electrolytes and Truvia. And PepsiCo is rolling out stevia-sweetened G2 Natural in berry, citrus mango and orange pomegranate at Whole Foods next month.

For its part, Kraft experimented with a Truvia-sweetened low-calorie drink mix last year, under its Nature Splash brand. The latter was sold only in Whole Foods stores as well.

Though a latecomer, Kraft still sees room for others in the segment. Consumers, Bernstein said, are looking for more naturally derived ingredients, and the shift also taps into an industry and nationwide trend to cut more sugar from Americans’ diets.

The beverage portion of that category continues to grow. In 2008, there were 66 SKUs of drinks made using stevia or any of its commercially derived forms. In 2009, it was double that number.

So far this year, there have been 101 new stevia drinks introduced, per Datamonitor, a research firm that tracks new products.

Kraft’s launch, however, stands out in that it’s sold in a dry mix form. That aisle of the grocery store is particularly cluttered, and Crystal Light’s use of stevia in drink mixes may actually help to propel sales for the brand, said Lynn Dornblaser, director of CPG Trend Insight at Mintel. “That category is enormous, and here is something that has a point of difference,” she said.