Monk Fruit Sweetener Could Save Sodas

A fear of artificial ingredients has had customers turning away from sodas in droves, but experts say a melon might be the key to winning them back.

According to Business Insider, the monk fruit, a sweet green melon about the size of an apple, is being tossed around as the potential source of a natural sweetener with zero calories.

That would be great news for the company that discovers it, and for the soft drink industry as a whole, as people are moving away from diet sodas and towards naturally sweetened juice, teas, and lemonades. Neilsen data shows diet soda consumption fell by 7 percent in 2013, and could drop by 20 percent through 2020.

"We believe we are seeing a fundamental shift in consumption behavior as diet drinkers leave the category altogether," said Bonnie Herzog, an analyst at Wells Fargo Securities, to Business Insider.

Stevia was heralded as a potential solution, but its bitter aftertaste has turned some customers off and the natural sweetener has not performed as well as expected. Monk fruit avoids the bitter aftertaste, and if its flavor is perceptible at all it's usually described as fruity.

While monk fruit has potential as a sweetener, it's also twice as expensive as stevia, and the fruit is only grown in some regions of China. It also has not yet been approved for consumption in Europe. But some analysts are still saying it could be the best option for the industry.

"The consumer is voting with their taste buds and concern for wellness," said Ali Dibadj, a soft drink industry analyst at Bernstein. "Investors realize that they have to shift their ingredient base not to be artificial and it is a tough combination to get right."