Wholesale Stevia Production on Urban Farm
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Emily Gadanyi
Posted on: March 01, 2008

I’m writing from Buffalo, New York, and involved in the start-up of an urban farm. We plan on growing organic stevia, and while the project is in its embryonic stage, we are determining whether to create a broad-base of customers versus a distributer or two. Distributors I have spoken with have expressed interest in literature ‘proving’ there is a market for our product as they claim they are not getting many requests for stevia.

What literature would you recommend that addresses the market demand for stevia? Also, would you recommend any distributors in the US/New York area? Many that I have spoken with buy directly from South America and although localized production sounds appealing they are not sure if we can achieve a high-quality product without a tropical climate.

I’m trying to assess the demand, which will in turn determine how many plugs to order from you. We have a significant acreage to dedicate to this urban project but are not sure what scale is best to start out with.

As this spring is the goal to get the project up and running, any advice on your part couldn’t be more appreciated... Thanks!

My apologies for the long delay in answering.

The market for stevia is very difficult to assess right now. Interest in stevia is rising worldwide and along with that is a rising interest in growing stevia. Where the market will be in one or two years is impossible to predict.

The 800 lb gorrilla is the joint venture of Coca-Cola and the U.S. agricultural giant, Cargill. Last year this venture has applied for over 20 U.S. patents related to stevia use in foods and beverages. It is expected that both companies will lobby the U.S. government to remove current prohibitions on stevia as a sweetener in foods. Presently, stevia and stevia-related isolates cannot be added in manufactured foods and drinks; they can only be sold as a standalone products for home use. If stevia is approved for use in commercial foods and beverages the market for stevia will explode. Canada and Europe would likely follow the U.S. lead.

Of course, Coca-Cola and Cargill won’t be knocking on your door in Buffalo for your stevia; they will be building their own supply chain. But the widespread use of stevia in foods will expand public awareness and acceptance of stevia products and with that demand for "boutique"-quality organic stevia will increase. Even now there is demand for high quality organic product but you need to seek out retailers, small distributors and small manufacturers that need small lots. You may even consider marketing direct to consumers. Distributors, who are getting their product from South America because that’s what they have always done, are woefully uninformed about the superior quality of stevia that can be grown here. That was proven unequivocally in a series of studies done by the Canadian government in southern Ontario. A little known fact: the concentration of steviosides is directly related to the amount of sunlight that shines on the plants, and with our longer days at our northern latitudes in summer, stevia produced here has more steviosides. Also, we generally see poor quality coming from South America; so buyers who are focussed on quality will appreciate the locally produced product.

You will need to develop your niche market in the face of stevia from South America and Asia. You will need to emphasize quality and your organic status. It can be done, but you need to cajole those who are behind the times, and pray for the 800 lb gorilla to get its way in Washington.

We always recommend caution when starting a new crop. Not only do you have to work out the production processes you need to allow time for market development. If I were you I would start with an acre or less the first year, even 1/4 acre is enough to work out the production and marketing issues. For reference purposes, stevia is typically planted at densities between 20,000 to 40,000 plants per acre.

For more information on stevia production, see The GrowerZone



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