The Malaysian group's EU operations will be based in London.
And PureCircle, in making the announcement yesterday, highlighted the fact that France, where stevia sweeteners with a high purity of the steviol glycoside Reb A have been permitted under a two-year window in advance of full EU sanctioning, has “experienced rapid growth in stevia awareness and early market adoption in the low calorie sweetener category.”
And similar activity is anticipated across Europe, commented the supplier. It added that UK interest in stevia is expected to be considerable, as it is already one of the largest markets for sweeteners in Europe.
EU stevia has been an industry-in-waiting but full authorisation for stevia glycosides use in food and drink products sold within the EU retail sector is now expected at the end of the year.
July saw EU member state experts in that month's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) meeting backing the EC proposal to authorise stevia, following European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) positive safety assessment in early 2010.
Following that vote, EC spokesperson Frederic Vincent said stevia-fortified products could be on European shelves by “early 2012” as long as there were no objections from the European Council and the European Parliament following a three-month scrutiny period.
Jordi Ferre, president of PureCircle's commercial division, said the its new UK presence will enable it to partner with customers across Europe, adding that the company "recognized early on the European Union’s potential for rapid growth, and responded by establishing strong joint ventures with leading sugar producers."
September 2010 saw it team up with sugar company Tereos with the aim of providing sugar/stevia blends to the European market.
Innovation activity in the EU
Angus Flood, president of the World Stevia Organization, said that indications from many of its 500 corporate and institutional members are that innovation activity in the EU market is well advanced in anticipation of rapid roll out early in 2012.
The principal areas of interest are in sugar reduction and replacement of synthetic aspartame and sucralose.
However, any product launches next year will require consumer marketing efforts in the initial stages, as has been the case in France, where stevia has figured large in advertisements for the first products with Reb A, such as Fanta Still.
France’s temporary stevia approval has been helpful as it has allowed suppliers to start shifting volumes and also to provide a test market.
“A lot of foreign companies have been checking what has been happening in France. It allows them to study the market and see consumer reactions," commented Hervé Ory-Lavollée, chairman of ingredients supplier Lavollée.
Snacks and non-alcoholic drinks
Attracted by its natural, low calorie profile, food manufacturers across the industry are turning to stevia but it is the market for snacks and non-alcoholic drinks that is leading the way.
Mintel data shows that snacks were the leading category 2005-2009 making up 38.5 per cent of new stevia-sweetened products, with soft drinks in second place at 30.4 per cent.
But in France, the market researcher said the beverage industry is currently the biggest user.
Coca-Cola has used stevia in its Fanta Still product and leading juice maker Joker has added the sweetener to its Vital nectar.
The dairy industry has also shown significant interest in stevia; Danone began using the ingredient in its Taillefine yoghurts in July last year, advertising the fact prominently on the pack.