French distributor secures stevia supply from Argentina

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Stevia, Food, Industry

Groupe Lavollée Chimie is gearing up for approval of stevia sweeteners in France, expected this summer, after signing an agreement with Argentine supplier Stevia Internacional.

France’s food safety agency, AFFSA, cleared use of 97 per cent purity Reb A earlier this year and ministerial authorisation is anticipated this summer.

Although Europe-wide approval is not expected before late 2010 at the earliest and the European Food Safety Authority has yet to give its opinion, France is taking advantage of transition arrangements that allow it to authorise a new sweetener for a two-year period. It is expected that by the time the two years are up, European approval will have been granted.

In anticipation, the French distributor has forged a deal to commercialise its partner’s 98 per cent purity rebaudiana (Reb A) extract in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, under the registered brand Stévial.

Stevia Internacional produces stevia in the Misiones region of Argentina, and has spent several years selecting the most productive plant. For now extraction is carried out by French and Argentine subcontractors, but by the end of the summer construction of its own facility close to the stevia-growing region in Misiones.

The facility will use an extraction process developed by Stevia Internacional, which it claims does not generate any undesired impurities. Its annual capacity will be several hundred tonnes of pure extract.

All grades of the stevia are in keeping with the principals of fair trade. Herve Ory Lavollée of Groupe Lavollee Chimie told that there are long-term contracts in place with cultivators and cooperatives that guarantee a price superior to the market price, and a higher revenue than if they were growing other vegetables.

“We are not yet certified [as fair trade] but we have the support of the local and Argentine governments,”​ he said, adding that the livelihoods of 1000 families will be improved.

The contract with Stevia Internacionales is exclusive. Lavolée said that the quantities available for Europe will be sufficient at this stage. The company wants to limit its supply to those who are seeking high quality – that is, sections of the food industry that seek maximum traceability, and the pharma and nutraceutical industries.

Industry insiders have expressed the view that other member states will follow France’s precedent and opt for early approval. Stevia has also recently been approved in Turkey.

Several markets

The French group will be channelling supply of the extract through its divisions, targeted to different industries.

Firmalis, based in Levallois, will serve the food industry; whereas Sipa A. Ch Berthier, in Grasse, will serve the flavour industry. Stevia Internacional has signed a partnership with Mane to develop flavour solutions specifically for using Stévial in food products.

The pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries will be supplied by Lavollee Chimie.

Other countries in the EMEA zone will be supplied by the group’s network and existing partners of Lavollée Chimie.

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