Identifying natural partners for stevia

by Jeff Gelski
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To take advantage of the natural trend when using stevia extracts, food and beverage manufacturers need to find natural ingredients to partner with the natural high-intensity sweeteners. Erythritol, fibers and even chocolate are possible partners, but finding other high-intensity sweeteners for blends may pose a problem.

U.S. sales of products promoted for stevia content reached $414.5 million for the 52 weeks ended April 16, which marked a 58% jump from $262 million in the previous 52-week period, according to The Nielsen Co., New York. Sales of products promoted for being natural reached $22,645.5 million for the 52 weeks ended April 16, up 9% from $20,840.6 million in the previous 52-week period. Sales covered all U.S. supermarkets.

Zenith International, Bath, United Kingdom, estimated worldwide sales of stevia reached 3,500 tonnes in 2010, up 27% from 2009, and forecasted the global market for stevia will reach 11,000 tonnes by 2014.

As interest in the zero-calorie sweetener has grown, so have predictions about the impact it may have on the food and beverage marketplace. Marvin Edeas, president and founder of the International Society of Antioxidants in Nutrition and Health, told the World Stevia Organization this past May that stevia may play a role in the prevention of many chronic diseases in the future, provided consumers accept the taste of stevia-sweetened products.

“The risk is that consumers will never accept stevia, even if it is a natural and healthy ingredient,” he said.

Barry Callebaut tackled taste issues before launching a no-sugar-added dark chocolate with stevia extracts this year. Stevia is part of a high-fiber, all-natural ingredient blend that replaces the sugar in the formulation. Inulin and corn dextrin provide the blend’s fiber. Erythritol, a polyol, is used as a bulking agent.

“We’ve really found that right balance,” said Alan Slesinski, R.&D. innovation manager for Barry Callebaut, Pennsauken, N.J. “We use the fibers and erythritol in a combination that optimizes the sweetness profile of stevia. If you simply add (a stevia extract) to chocolate, you can easily have issues. What we’ve done is try to overcome that through the right ingredient blends.”

The dark chocolate may work in multiple applications, including molding, enrobing and inclusions. Mr. Slesinski gave examples of the chocolate being used as a drizzle or a bottom layer for a granola bar or energy bar.

Other companies have partnered erythritol with stevia. Jungbunzlauer AG, Basel, Switzerland, offers Erylite stevia, a blend of the stevia plant extract Rebaudioside A and Erylite, the company’s brand name of erythritol. Erylite stevia may be used as a 1:1 sugar replacement in most foods and beverages, according to Jungbunzlauer.

Cargill, Minneapolis, offers the Truvia brand of stevia-based sweeteners for use in foods and beverages. This year Iskream Inc., Milford, Conn., used Truvia and erythritol in a new line of ice cream that comes in the flavors of berry, chocolate brownie and vanilla. Depending on the variety, the ice cream has 2 to 3 grams of erythritol and 6 to 7 grams of sugar per serving, which may be 80 to 90 grams.

National Starch/Corn Products planned to partner stevia extracts with other healthy ingredients at its booth during the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition June 11-14 in New Orleans. Enliten, the company’s brand of stevia extract, will sweeten sweet tea and raspberry powder beverages fortified with Aquamin mineral source, NutraFlora prebiotic fiber and Purimune galactooligosaccharides. Enliten also will sweeten citrus-flavored vitamin water, a flavored chew with Nu-Mega omega-3 DHA, a fat-free yogurt with 50% reduced sugar and reduced-sugar chocolate milk.

A carbonated soft drink launch that includes stevia extracts from PureCircle still may happen this year, said Jordi Ferre, corporate vice-president of sales and marketing for PureCircle.

“I think the reason why we have not seen the launches we expected this January were that basically the companies were not comfortable yet with the taste of the product,” he said in a March 21 conference call.

To keep a product natural, beverage manufacturers have to avoid blending stevia extracts with synthetic high-intensity sweeteners.

$tevia $upplier$ $eek profit$ through international growth

GLG Life Tech Corp. and PureCircle, two suppliers of stevia extracts, are focusing on international growth after reporting losses in recent financial results.

GLG Life Tech, Vancouver, B.C., suffered a loss of C$6.2 million ($6.4 million) in the first quarter ended March 31, which compared with a loss of C$1 million ($1 million) in the previous year’s first quarter. First-quarter sales fell 10% to C$7.4 million ($7.6 million) from C$8.2 million ($8.4 million) because of a decrease in the selling price of the company’s RA 80 stevia products and a decrease in the U.S.-Canada exchange rate.

GLG Life Tech in the first quarter reported an increase in general and administration expenses of C$2.8 million mainly associated with the start-up of a joint venture in China.

“The company believes that China represents the largest market opportunity for its high-grade stevia products and future growth,” GLG Life Tech said when giving first-quarter results May 16.

GLG Life Tech in December entered into a joint venture agreement with China Agriculture and Healthy Foods Co. Ltd. for the sale and distribution of zero-calorie beverages and products in China that are sweetened with GLG’s stevia extract products. The joint venture is called Dr. Zhang’s All Natural and Zero Calorie Beverage and Foods Co. (ANOC).

In its 2011 fiscal year outlook GLG Life Tech expects revenue of C$160 million to C$200 million and EBITDA of C$30 million to C$39 million. The company expects its stevia sweetener business to grow 53% to 70% from 2010 with a large portion expected to come from China.

PureCircle suffered a loss of $7 million over the six months ended Dec. 31, 2010, which compared with net income of $1.6 million in the same time period of the previous year. Six-month revenues of $13.6 million were down from $37.5 million. The company still expects sales of $50 million to $60 million for the current fiscal year, which would compare with $60 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010.

“We expect a significant uplift in sales to materialize in the second half,” said Magomet Malsagov, chief executive officer, in a March 21 conference call.

PureCircle expected a launch of a carbonated soft drink with PureCircle stevia extracts to occur earlier this year and still expects the launch to occur later this year. The company anticipated European Union approval of the use of stevia extracts in foods and beverages by now and still expects approval to occur this year. France already has approved the use of stevia extracts.

“True sales velocity is not expected until calendar years 2012 and 2013,” Mr. Malsagov said. “So we believe that big launches like carbonated soft drinks and the E.U. approval impact will fall into the 2012 and 2013 calendar years.”

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