Sweet Purpose, a sugar substitute using stevia, is sold over the Internet by a family-based company in Jacksonville. - Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell

A sweet business idea finds its Internet niche

The market for sugar substitutes doubled to $700 million in the past decade and with half the households in America using substitute sweeteners expectations are for more of the same.

Rural Jacksonville residents Craig and Mary Kirkpatrick think capturing even a wafer-thin niche in such a market would be a sweet deal.

"We think it's going to grow at least in the 20 percent range for the next five years," says Craig Kirkpatrick, former vice president for sales and marketing at Sabroso Co.

With the double-barreled demographics of health-conscious young adults and older people following physicians' orders to reduce sugar intake, the Kirkpatricks see an open field to sell Sweet Purpose stevia.

"We saw it as a fantastic opportunity with all the problems related to sugar consumption such as diabetes and obesity," he said. "It seems a natural, zero-calorie option is going to do well."

Like many Sabroso executives, Craig Kirkpatrick found himself without a job after Tree Top acquired the Medford food ingredient company and consolidated front-office operations. He soon caught on with Sweet Green Fields, an Australian-backed start-up in Bellingham, Wash., that produced highly concentrated stevia, made from herbs and shrubs, for commercial clients.

Preferring to spend more time in the Rogue Valley and less pursuing distant clients, the next step was a natural for Kirkpatrick — a family business with his wife, son Connor and daughter Allison.

Mary Kirkpatrick minds the financial side and challenged all involved to produce the optimum taste, Craig said

"She sees as a mom and leads the effort that way," he said. Connor heads up the company's social awareness mission and Allison is involved in website and social-networking components. She also coined the Sweet Purpose brand name.

"I remember looking at stevia at Sabroso; it was a very interesting ingredient because it was all natural, had zero calories and we were looking at formulations to reduce the amount of sugar we used," Kirkpatrick said. "We were already using it at home."

The door to commercial applications swung wide open for stevia in 2008 when the FDA approved it as a high-purity sweetener; previously it was classed as a food supplement.

"We use their (Sweet Green Fields) product in our product," he said. "It's diluted about 200 percent. The opportunity seems to be in consumer products, because the volume needed in an industrial ingredient market is not that high."

The growth of Internet commerce and social networking intrigued him during his Sabroso days.

"You have the ability to stay in close contact with your customer, whether they are in Medford or New York," Kirkpatrick said. "It's an odd time to start a company with two kids in college, but we decided to take the plunge."

The product comes in a jar for kitchen table use, a pouch for cooking and packets for on-the-go use. Prices range from $9.99 to $12.99. The company's website,, launched last week.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email

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