Some Tobacco Farmers Have a Sweet Tooth

As smoking fades, growers shift to sweetener ingredient stevia
Photograph by Emilio Ereza/Alamy

The once-idled leaf-processing machines at a former tobacco trading house in Alma, Ga., are coming back to life. Except now the warehouse, which still smells of tobacco leaves and cigarette smoke, is becoming a hub for a sweeter crop: stevia. Approved for commercial use in the U.S. five years ago, stevia extracts are fast becoming the sugar substitute of choice for a population trying to slim down and avoid artificial options. The no-calorie, natural sweetener, derived from plants grown mostly in China and South America, is creating an opportunity for U.S. farmers and processors looking to make up for dwindling tobacco demand and sell to the likes of Cargill and Coca-Cola.

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