European stevia firm to build Paraguay plant

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Stevia

Granular, a European stevia producer, has entered into a joint partnership to build a refinery for the natural sweetener in South America which it said will be environmentally neutral.

The Swedish company said the new facility will be run entirely from solar energy, outdoor heat energy and in-house produced biogas, making the plant energy self-sufficient.

It will be built in Caaguazú, Paraguay, on the site of an old Coca Cola production plant which is owned by Dr Nicolás Leoz, Granular’s partner in this venture.

Granular’s overall investment in Paraguay, which includes corporate social responsibility commitments to support local farmers, is expected to be between $20-40M and the 400 ton refinery is due to be operational in 2010/11.

Florence Berglund, a spokeswoman for Granular, told FoodNavigator.com that the company already has a stevia factory in China. However, there are plans to build a larger facility there which is expected to be operational by the end of 2010 and act as a model for Paraguay.

Meanwhile, Berglund added: “As we expand, we will explore opportunities for refineries in Europe and for regional micro refineries in Africa and/or in Asia.”

The South American refinery is expected to serve both the European and US markets and will make use of zero environmental impact technology developed in Sweden.

Berglund said: “It will generate its own energy needs (heat and electricity) by means of solar panels, biogas generated from residual stevia leaves (once they have been soaked in water as part of the extraction process), and heat pumps that will use heat from outside air.

“The water will be returned to the environment in the same volume and quality.”

Products and markets

Granular sells its products under the trademark Real Stevia and sources the stevia from China as well as Paraguay where 20 per cent is Certified Organic.

Its standard product contains a minimum of 85 per cent Reb A but it can also produce products with 97 per cent Reb A.

The steviol glycoside Reb A is the sweetest, purest part of the stevia leaf.

The US market for stevia opened up in December when The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it has no objection to rebiana, (Reb A) at 95 percent purity or above, having GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status as a general purpose sweetener for food and drink, not just as a supplement.

The spokeswoman said that although they are not yet selling in the US yet, they are in discussions with two large American functional beverage producers. The company is also in the process of preparing for self-affirmed GRAS and FDA notification for its product.

Europe is Granular’s primary market. However, in the EU the regulatory cogs regarding the use of stevia are still turning following submissions to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in September 2007.

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