Sweetener primed for roll-out

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Stevia

Sweetener primed for roll-out
Regulatory approval could see Stevia break into major intense sweeteners Markets

Aspartame and sucralose could face serious competition in the intense sweeteners market in 2009/2010 if high purity extracts from the stevia leaf gain regulatory approval in the US and Europe.

Malaysia-based producer PureCircle, which produces a zero calorie high purity extract from the stevia leaf called Reb-A, is hoping to gain approval to enter the US market with Reb-A in a matter of weeks. Once it gets the green light from the US Food and Drug Administration, EU approval could follow six months to a year later, predicted sales and marketing director Peter Milsted.

Unlike sucralose, which has also tried to position itself as a more 'natural' alternative to aspartame or saccharin, Reb-A was not associated with any negative press and was perceived by consumers as completely natural, said Milsted.

The extract, which was up to 400 times sweeter than sugar, also had technical advantages over aspartame in that it was stable at high temperatures and in acidic environments, said PureCircle.

"We've significantly upgraded our forecasts after talking to manufacturers who are interested in using Reb-A in conjunction with sugar in products from dairy to juices, and in replacements for sweeteners like aspartame in existing products such as diet soft drinks," said Milsted.

Currently, PureCircle supplies companies with Reb-A including Cargill (which is developing the Truvia brand for table-top sweeteners and working with Coca-Cola on beverages), PepsiCo (which is using the PureVia brand in the SoBe Life range in Latin America), and the Whole Earth Sweetener Company (which has developed a table-top sweetener under the PureVia brand), said Milsted. PureCircle also has a licence to market Reb-A as PureVia in other products.

While Cargill and Blue California were now developing their own stevia growing and production systems, "no-one is buying stevia leaf at anything like the rate we are", said Milsted.

PureCircle is working with growers in Thailand, Latin America, Kenya and China to guarantee cultivation of stevia plants to supply its extraction plant in China. Capacity at the plant is being ramped up to 4,000t/year in the first quarter of 2009. A stevia refining plant in Malaysia is also being upgraded to produce 2,000t/year.

Some experts have predicted EU approval could take years rather than months. An application to gain EU approval for steviol glycosides as food additives (sweeteners) was submitted in September 2007, but the European Food Safety Authority was not likely to start looking at it until after June 2009, said Professor Jan Geuns, head of the functional biology laboratory at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in the Netherlands, who filed the application on behalf of the European Stevia Association.

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