In Place of Tobacco
After tobacco: What? Every year fewer and fewer farmers plant tobacco, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But what are they to grow instead? Prospects look good, say experts, for a valuable but virtually unknown crop: stevia. From it is derived a zero-calorie, all-natural sweetener used by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and a fast-growing list of other food and beverage manufacturers.

Robert Brooke, CEO of Stevia First, a California agribusiness looking to promote the plant's cultivation, tells ABC News that stevia has been grown in South America for hundreds of years. It's grown in China, and, since the 1970s, in Japan. But, says Brooke, barely 10 percent of U.S. consumers had ever heard of it by 2008, the year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved its use as a sugar-substitute.

The most widely form of stevia now available in the U.S. is marketed by Cargill under the name Truvia. Mark Brooks, Truvia's global business director, tells Bloomberg that about 55 million American households bought stevia-sweetened products in the past year, according to Nielsen data.


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