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Stevia approval in EU a regulatory milestone, says PureCircle

By Jane Byrne , 14-Nov-2011

Related topics: Policy

Leading global stevia supplier PureCircle has hailed as a milestone the long-awaited EU approval of steviol glycosides, with regulation adopted by the Commission on 11 November.

Last month PureCircle report that a “delay” in regulatory approval for stevia in the EU was a factor contributing to its lower-than-expected sales for the year. Its full year results for 2011 showed that high purity stevia sales were $53.2m, 12 per cent lower than 2010.

The regulation permitting the sale and use of the sweetener was published in the Official Journal of the EU on 12 November. Twenty calendar days from that date, the legislation will enter into force, allowing for the sale of products formulated with steviol glycosides as early as 2 December.

Speaking to FoodNavigator.com this morning, Sue Bancroft, global marketing director EMEA for PureCircle, said the producer expects the first rollout of food and drink products using its line of stevia ingredients to hit the supermarket shelves in Europe from the first quarter of 2012.

However, the tabletop sweetener Pure Via developed by Merisant, using PureCircle’s stevia extract (Reb A), will likely be launched in the UK next month, she added.

The company recently announced that London will be the base of its European headquarters to support customer launches throughout the region and it has been working over the past few months with a range of food and beverage brand owners in Europe in anticipation of authorization of steviol glycosides in the EU.

“While the UK and Germany are recognized as the leading sweetener markets in Europe, we also see huge potential in the Spanish and Italian markets,” said Bancroft.

Sweet taste profiling

Interestingly, she notes a huge variety in sweetness taste preferences between the US and Europe and also on a regional basis within the EU.

“In this regard our joint ventures with experts in the EU sugar industry, including Nordzucker for the Northern European region and Tereos for the Southern European market, have helped us tease out the particular formulations needed to satisfy the sweetness demands of specific countries,” she explained.

Awareness levels

According to Bancroft, stevia awareness with consumers in Europe is relatively low but based on trends in France, where Reb A has had temporary approval for the past two years and coupled with the expected raft of product launches in the next few months, PureCircle is confident the ingredient will rapidly gain currency among shoppers in the EU.

"There was only 23% awareness of the sweetener in France in 2010 when we conducted our first consumer snapshot survey. Our latest research - July 2011 - indicates awareness of the sweetener among the general population in that country had already reached 47%,” she said.

Prototypes realised

And Bancroft claims PureCircle “hasn’t been sitting on its hands” while awaiting stevia approval in Europe but instead has developed prototypes based on its stevia portfolio to show EU brand owners the potential for the sweetener in a wide range of foodstuffs and beverages.

While beverages have dominated innovation along stevia lines, Bancroft said the producer has also been focusing R&D around dairy and confectionery.

Its recently developed stevia derived ingredient, Alpha, which can be incorporated into food and beverages at high dosage levels, is particularly suited to dairy products, she continued.

The ingredient allows for more rounded sweetness and less bitterness at high sugar replacement levels. Specifically, it is intended for products targeting a 50-100% reduction in calories, the company said.

New GLG distribution network

Meanwhile, following EU stevia approval, another leading stevia player, GLG has announced the establishment of long-term deals with seven key ingredient distributors for the European market.

The company said the new distribution network includes: Caldic Ingredients, ChemPoint, Emilio Pena, Gusto Faravelli, Keyser & Mackay; Nordmann, Rassmann and PK Chemicals.