Stevia without plants? We won’t rule it out – but it’s not what consumers want right now, says PureCircle

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers care that stevia comes from a plant, says PureCircle
Consumers care that stevia comes from a plant, says PureCircle

Related tags: Stevia, Stevia extracts

Stevia sweeteners can now be developed through fermentation – rather than extraction from stevia plants – but it is the plant-based message that is most important to consumers, according to (plant-derived) stevia supplier PureCircle.

Back in March, Swiss-based Evolva Holding announced a partnership with Cargill​ to develop and commercialise fermentation-derived steviol glycosides – the sweet-tasting components of the stevia leaf.  The two companies hailed the deal as a ‘new evolution’ in stevia, and Evolva has been working on the technology for several years, to produce commercially viable sweeteners that are molecularly identical to stevia extracts, but without relying on the cultivation, processing and refining of stevia plants.

PureCircle does not want to rule out any method of producing stevia extracts, says the company’s vice president of global marketing and innovation, Jason Hecker. However, he says stevia’s plant origin still resonates with consumers.

“We don’t rule anything out, but we don’t believe over the near term that this is what consumers are looking for,” ​he said, adding that taste, rather than production method, is the biggest driver of market demand.

“It’s not going to be decided by the companies that choose to announce production or development. It is going to be decided by the consumers.”

Evolva claims that its technology could produce different, lower cost, and perhaps better-tasting, steviol glycosides in quantities that are currently not commercially viable because of their low concentration in the stevia leaf.

But the fact that stevia is derived from a leaf is important to consumers, and there is no problem with scaling up the supply to take advantage of those components that occur at lower levels in the leaf, says Hecker.

“We are already doing it,”​ he said.

Indeed, PureCircle is seeking regulatory approval​ for a stevia extract it has dubbed ‘rebaudioside X’ in the United States, where authorities also approved its rebaudioside D sweetener​ earlier this month.

Hecker said these are interesting tools for product developers, to be used alone or in combination with other stevia extracts, but he added: “Rebaudioside X or D, that’s not where we communicate with consumers. What resonates best with consumers was that it is from the leaf.

“…But the final statement is that we will be ready for wherever our customers want us to go.”

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