The firm has spent seven years developing its ingredient rebiana (Truvia), which is derived from the steviol glycoside rebaudioside A, a compound contained in the leaves of South American shrub stevia rebaudiana.
Cargill plans to sell the zero-calorie sweetener (which is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar) to EU consumers with a carrier as a tabletop sweetener; it says it is also partnering food firms to develop specific ingredients in products as baked snacks and yoghurts; beverages, however, are leading the way.
In April 2010 EFSA (European Food Safety Agency) approved the safety of a range of steviol glycosides derived from the stevia plant for use as food and beverage additives, and the EU Commission is expected to legalise their usage shortly.
Zanna McFerson, assistant VP of health and nutrition at Cargill, and head of the Truvia business, told FoodNavigator.com that Cargill had spent $10m dollars and three years preparing a dossier to satisfy EFSA’s requirements on safety and food manufacturing practices.
French launch planned
Following EFSA’s positive decision, she said that Cargill was seeing a “extensive interest from upcoming approval of stevia here in the EU”, especially ahead of Truvia’s scheduled launch as a tabletop sweeter in France from Q1 of 2011, which follows safety approval from the French Agency for Food Safety (AFSSA).
Truvia Rebiana is currently being used in France within Coca Cola's Fanta Still juice drink and Eckes Granini juice drinks under the Joker and Rea brands.
McFerson said that Truvia Rebiana is now consumed by around 4.5m households in the US, where it launched after FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval in mid-2008, and now corners 8.2 per cent of the 'sugar substitute' market.
She said:“I think we have 150 projects ongoing with businesses worldwide, and US product launches show the fruits of our labour. Truvia has become the number three sweetener in only 20 months, surpassing many mature artificial sweeteners.”
Moreover, previous fears regarding premium prices for stevia-based sweeteners were not an issue now, she explained.“A 40-count box (equivalent to 80 tsp of sugar) costs $3.99. Given Truvia’s growing market share, price is no barrier to growth of the product and consumer interest."
Food ingredient applications
Cargill confirmed that the beverage market was driving European interest, with McFerson saying:
“Of course, the beverage market is large...and the place to go because you have immediate impact of zero calories if you’re replacing sugar, and the impact of a natural product when replacing an artificial sweetener.”
Nonetheless, she insisted Cargill was seeing interest across the food spectrum. “Overall this ingredient has applicability across all food products – baked goods, dairy and food preparations, confections. We even have a yoghurt product in the States.”
‘Shows no biomarkers’
An October 2008 US citizen's petition sought to block the acceptance of stevia as a sweetener in the US, and instead get it classified as a drug, given limited research supporting supposed health benefits.
These range from diabetes prevention to anti-carcinogenic effects, but McFerson rebutted suggestions that the ‘stevia-drug’ connection might linger in the minds of consumers.
“The FDA completely reviewed that challenge and rejected without merit the idea that stevia is a drug.”
Accordingly, she said that Cargill had no plans to produce a stevia product with marketable health benefits: “It’s a sweetener. It shows no biomarkers, unless it’s combined with something that has a health effect.”
However, with 200 varities of the stevia plant, McFerson said the firm continued to work on products that harnassed its powers: “Rebiana is the best-tasting glycoside but overall Cargill has a comprehensive stevia glycoside business."