The French government approved the use of Reb-A in food and beverages last September, taking advantage of a two-year window before anticipated EU-wide approval. In January it increased the permitted levels in a number of categories, and allowed it to be used in table top sweeteners for the first time.
Now a Swedish company, Liv Natur, is preparing to launch a Yerba Maté beverage with Reb A supplied by Granular. Yerba Maté is made from the leaves of the Ilex paraguariensis tree which, like the stevia rebaudiana plant, is native to Paraguay. According to a spokesperson from Granular, stevia leaves have been used by the Indians in Paraguay to sweeten mate, which have a naturally slightly bitter taste.
The product will be sold as Live Maté in France from April. It is thought to be the first beverage launched anywhere to be sweetened with Reb-A alone. Other beverages introduced in the US and other markets have combined stevia-sweeteners with other sweeteners to ensure the best taste profile.
Formulated without the use of flavour-maskers to cover off-notes that can, in some cases, occur with stevia, Liv Maté product does have a small number of calories (9.1 kcal per 100ml), but these come from the fruit juices with which it is formulated.
Yerbe Maté debut
Yerba Maté does not have a long history of consumption in France; some products have been available in specialist heath food stores.
It is marketed on a healthy platform, as the drink has been researched for its potential to increase alertness (it contains mateine, a caffeine-like substance), fat burning effects, and satiety effects.
Stevia, too, has an association with good health as it has a low glycaemia index.
Liv Natur is also planning to launch Liv Maté in Switzerland and South Korea in early 2010. It is also negotiating distribution agreements in Japan, USA, Russia and Poland, all of which are seen as priority markets.
Stevia in France
So far, only a very small number of products sweetened with stevia have appeared on French shelves.
Amongst these is Swiss chocolate company Villars, which has used stevia in a 70 per cent cocoa chocolate bar.
Beverage giant Coca Cola announced to much fanfare in early December that will use Reb A in Fanta Still in France. However the ingredients list for Fanta Still variants on the Coca Cola France website do not include stevia or Reb-A, and the company did not respond to a request for a progress report prior to publication of this article.
The Granular spokesperson said it has other customers engaged in product development using its stevia material.