Make way for stevia

by Jeff Gelski
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The Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo, Inc. both introduced beverages featuring natural, zero-calorie sweeteners Dec. 17. The product launches directly were related to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruling made the same day. The F.D.A. said it had no questions about two petitions regarding the safety of using Rebaudioside A, an extract from the stevia plant, in foods and beverages.

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola North America introduced Sprite Green sweetened with Truvia, which features Rebaudioside A, or rebiana.

"Sprite Green, the new reduced-calorie Sprite line extension, is the first of what the company expects will be many new, naturally sweetened, reduced-, low- and zero-calorie beverages sweetened with Truvia natural sweetener in the future," Coca-Cola North America said.

Odwalla, Inc., based in Half Moon Bay, Calif., and owned by Coca-Cola, launched Odwalla Mojito Mambo and Pomegranate Strawberry natural juice drinks sweetened with Truvia.

PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y., introduced zero-calorie SoBe Lifewater featuring PureVia, a brand name for stevia-based sweeteners used in beverages and tabletop sweeteners. Tropicana, a brand owned by PepsiCo, in March will introduce Trop 50, a light orange juice product sweetened with PureVia that will have 50% less sugar and calories.

"The new flavors of SoBe Lifewater and Trop 50 will continue the transformation of our product portfolio into a wider variety of healthy products, and we also believe they can help revitalize interest in our North American beverage business," said Massimo d’Amore, chief executive officer of PepsiCo Americas Beverages.

Previously, the F.D.A. allowed the use of stevia-based sweeteners in dietary supplements. Cargill submitted a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) filing to the F.D.A. on May 15 that sought the use of Rebaudioside A purified form of Stevia rebaudiana as a general-purpose sweetener in foods, excluding meat and poultry products.

Cargill on Dec. 17 confirmed the F.D.A. had issued a letter of no objection to the company, meaning the F.D.A. has no questions regarding the conclusion that Rebaudioside A is GRAS under the intended conditions of use.

"Given the extensive research conducted to assure the safety of Truvia rebiana, Cargill has tremendous confidence in the product," said Marcelo Montero, president of Cargill Health & Nutrition. "The F.D.A. letter further validates what the science has concluded — that Truvia rebiana is safe for use for all consumers."

Minneapolis-based Cargill and The Coca-Cola Co. jointly developed Truvia. Sprite Green sweetened with Truvia will be launched in two U.S. cities this month. It initially will be marketed to teenagers and young-adults with a broader rollout for early 2009. The product features 50 calories per 8.5-oz serving.

The Odwalla juices will be sweetened with Truvia along with organic evaporated cane juice and fruit juices. The products will offer 50 calories per 8-oz serving and also come fortified with antioxidant vitamins C and E. The new Odwalla juices will be available nationwide.

PepsiCo’s SoBe Lifewater sweetened with PureVia will come in the three flavors of Black and Blue Berry, Fuji Apple Pear, and Yumberry Pomegranate.

Pepsico and Whole Earth Sweetener Co., L.L.C., a subsidiary of Merisant, have trademarked the PureVia brand name. Whole Earth Sweetener Co. has begun shipping PureVia tabletop sweetener in 40-stick and 80-stick cartons for sale at retail. Whole Earth Sweetener Co. also filed a GRAS petition with the F.D.A. in May. PepsiCo on Dec. 17 said the F.D.A. had issued a letter of no objection to Whole Earth.

While Merisant recently has had positive discussions with retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., several retailers and food service companies had postponed purchasing PureVia, preferring to wait until the F.D.A. offered a no objection response to the GRAS petitions, said Paul Block, c.e.o. and president of Merisant, in a November earnings conference call.

"We think this no objection will give many of our largest customers the additional assurance needed for them to stock PureVia in the sweetener aisle alongside sugar and other sweeteners," he said at that time.

Cargill on Dec. 15 announced it will educate consumers about stevia-based sweeteners through its national marketing plan for Truvia (see story below). According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2008 Food & Health Survey, 26% of respondents said they were trying to consume more stevia. Another 17% said they were trying to consume less, and 57% said they were trying to consume neither more nor less of stevia.

Companies may use stevia-based sweeteners to give their products an identity.

"Companies and brands like Coke and Pepsi and most of the big beverage companies have a hard time differentiating their product," said Dr. Robert Passikoff, founder and president of New York-based Brand Keys, Inc. "Getting awareness is not a problem. It’s trying to bring, new, different and wonderful products to the consumer."

Larger beverage companies becoming involved in the stevia-based sweetener market may strain supplies, Mr. Block of Merisant said.

"And those that have built relationships now and have access to right supply will be in the catbird seat," he said in November.

The supply issue may make it difficult for smaller players and private label to enter the stevia-based sweetener market, Mr. Block said.

"So while there is no patent exclusivity on an all-natural product — it comes from the ground — I think there is a certain window where availability will be difficult and will limit broad expansion and distribution from a number of different companies," he said.

PepsiCo will have no supply problems, Mr. d’Amore said at the Morgan Stanley Global Consumer & Retail Conference in November.

"There’s plenty of land where stevia can be cultivated," Mr. d’Amore said. "So we don’t see a supply issue with Reb A going forward. And we have secured enough supply for our plans, certainly for the next few years."

Brand names

Stevia-based sweeteners come in several brand names, including:

• Good & Sweet: Features 99% Rebaudioside A, part of the stevia leaf. Blue California, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., manufactures Good & Sweet, which is 400 times sweeter than sugar.

• PureVia: Made from Rebaudioside A and is 200 times sweeter than sugar. PureVia is a trademark of PepsiCo, Inc. and Whole Earth Sweetener Co., L.L.C., a subsidiary of Merisant. PureCircle develops and produces Rebaudioside A extracted from the stevia plant and sold under the PureVia brand. The company has contracts with PepsiCo and with Whole Earth Sweetener Co.

• Reb A 95: Comprised of 99.5% steviol glycosides. Sunwin International Nutraceuticals, Inc., Qufu, The People’s Republic of China, expanded production of its Rebaudioside A 95 in anticipation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearing it for use in foods and beverages.

• Truvia: Made from Rebaudioside A. The Coca-Cola Co. and Cargill jointly developed the sweetener.

• SweetLeaf Sweetener: Contains 98% stevia sweet glycosides. Wisdom Natural Brands, Gilbert, Ariz., uses only water in its proprietary extraction process.

The petitions

• Whole Earth Sweetener Co., L.L.C., a subsidiary of Merisant Co., in May filed a petition with the Food and Drug Administration seeking Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status for Rebaudioside A purified from Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) for use as a sweetener in selected beverages (including sweetened teas, diet soft drinks, energy drinks and flavored waters) and cereals (oatmeal, cold cereal, and cereal bars) at levels ranging from 150 to 500 mg per kg (mg/kg); and as a tabletop sweetener at 30,000 mg/kg.

• Cargill in May filed a petition with the F.D.A. seeking GRAS status for Rebaudioside A purified from Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) for use as a general-purpose sweetener in foods generally, excluding meat and poultry products, at levels determined by current good manufacturing practices.

Cargill launches campaign for sweetener from stevia

MINNEAPOLIS — Cargill is launching a national integrated marketing plan for its Truvia natural, plant-based sweetener through television, print and on-line advertising, the Minneapolis-based company said Dec. 15. Truvia is a zero-calorie sweetener that features Rebaudioside A purified from Stevia rebaudiana.

Four 30-second TV spots featuring the Truvia tabletop sweetener will air nationally on network and cable television. Print and on-line ads will run on media properties focused on women, wellness and epicurean topics. The campaign also will include coupons, in-store and consumer sampling programs.

"The marketing campaign to launch Truvia tabletop sweetener is designed to inform consumers that for the first time, there is a natural great-tasting zero-calorie sweetener that comes from a leaf, not a lab," said Zanna McFerson, director of Cargill Health & Nutrition.

Cargill submitted a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) filing to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on May 15 that sought the use of Rebaudioside A purified from Stevia rebaudiana as a general-purpose sweetener in foods, excluding meat and poultry products. Cargill on Dec. 17 confirmed the F.D.A. had issued a letter of no objection, meaning the F.D.A. has no questions regarding the conclusion that Rebaudioside A, or rebiana, is GRAS under the intended conditions of use.

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