Intensity heightens in sweetener battle

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Stevia Cargill

Rebiana, a plant-based zero-calorie sweetener being developed by Cargill and Coca-Cola, should have greater consumer appeal than other high-intensity...

Rebiana, a plant-based zero-calorie sweetener being developed by Cargill and Coca-Cola, should have greater consumer appeal than other high-intensity sweeteners perceived by consumers as artificial, its makers have claimed.

Speaking to Food Manufacture in the wake of a series of speculative press reports about the sweetener, a Cargill spokeswoman said: “There has been considerable consumer demand for a natural zero-calorie sweetener and this is the first launch of a product that fits that need and will be available at a global commercial scale.”

Rebiana, extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant, is no cheaper than rival sweeteners, she said. However, demand was likely to be extremely high as it was perceived to be more natural than sucralose and aspartame, which had received a lot of negative publicity, she added.

Availability issues were being addressed through the development of a stevia plant breeding and production system in China, Paraguay and Argentina to develop commercial quantities of a standardised extract.

The deal licenses Coca-Cola to exclusively develop and sell Rebiana in drinks, while Cargill will sell it for use in yoghurts, cereals, ice cream, confectionery and other products.

“The stevia plants are supplied mainly through a closed-loop supply system in three different regions of the world,” said the spokeswoman. “Cargill contracts with farmers and in that process establishes quality control and consistency in the finished material.”

She declined to comment on the regulatory situation governing the extract. It would have to gain approval under the Novel Food Regulation to be used in Europe and gain GRAS (generally recognised as safe) status for use in the US. In the meantime, activities would be targeted at key markets including Japan, Brazil and China, where stevia extracts were approved.

However, companies are understood to be conducting clinical trials to determine its effects on blood pressure and blood sugar following concerns about a lack of data in these areas, she said.

Contrary to some press reports, Rebiana was not digested or metabolised differently to other high intensity sweeteners, she added.

Stevia extracts had been widely used in Japan and other Asian countries to sweeten foods, she said. But Cargill and Coca-Cola had patented production processes to identify, extract and develop parts of the leaf that did not leave a bitter aftertaste.

An application to market dried stevia leaves in Europe under the EU Novel Food Regulation was rejected in June 1999 by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee for Food. It was claimed that there was insufficient safety data or information on specification and standardisation to support the product’s safe use.

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