The French government approved stevia extracts with 97 per cent purity Rebaudioside A (Reb A) as food and beverage sweeteners by inter-ministerial decree last week, taking advantage of a two year window that allows approval ahead of the rest of the EU.
The approval, which was prompted by a petition in 2006 from Greensweet, followed a positive safety opinion earlier this year from the French food safety agency AFSSA.
Since then other stevia suppliers have been swift to communicate their interest and activities. Sweden’s Granular has today announced the launch of its stevia sweetener, Real Stevia, to the industry.
Until now, the only European market where stevia has been permitted as a sweetener has been Switzerland, but there have been only a small number of product launches since each one has to go through its own pre-market approval process.
Florence Berglund, marketing director at Granular, told FoodNavigtor.com that the industry launch of Real Stevia has been pending the French approval, but in the meantime the company has been working exclusively with a partner on the development of a consumer product for the last year.
Although the details of the consumer product are still enshrouded in secrecy, the product is tipped to make a public appearance soon.
It is unlikely to be alone on the shelves. The French press has whispered loudly about the possibility of a product from Coca Cola; and agrifood giant Cargill too has said that French consumers will soon be able to buy its Truvia sweetener in table top format.
But Berglund sees it as good that there are several early adopters.
“We are really happy we are not the only ones. The average consumer does not know what stevia is yet,” she said, adding that the more players there are the greater the awareness there will be.
Beverages have been a hot application for stevia sweeteners the US so far, where the FDA granted ‘no objection’ to sweeteners with 95 per cent Reb A purity last December. But Berglund said: “A lot of manufacturers are still wondering how to use it”.
She expects that combining stevia and sugar to reduce the overall calorie load is “certainly a possibility”.
In some cases stevia will be used in place of other sweeteners as manufacturers revamp their products to move away from sweeteners with an artificial image.
But it is highly likely that brand new products will be developed as a vehicle for stevia. If consumers are used to the taste and price of a certain standard product, switching to stevia overnight would give a slightly different taste – and that may affect acceptability, Berglund said.
She added that it is not a question of better or worse taste, just different.