Stevia Natura built a new factory in the Auvergne region of Central France, which began operating at the start of June this year.
“We make stevia here and control the quality. The brand made the choice due to the quality of our product, I think, but I’m not in their minds, so I can’t say why they chose us,” Stevia Natura CEO, Dr Joel Perret, told BeverageDaily.com
“Perhaps it’s a question of quality and proximity to the production area – they are able to visit our facilities and so on,” he added.
“For some companies in Europe it’s important to visit the factory and have close contact with the supplier,” Perret said.
Strict EU stevia regulation hampering growth
As part of our recent beverage sweeteners special, an executive from fellow stevia supplier Almendra told us she thought that Europe had been “particularly victimized” by poor quality stevia in the past – meaning that some companies, and consumers even, had a ‘once bitten, twice shy’ attitude towards the sweetener.
Did Perret agree with this assessment? And was it one that Stevia Natura was also fighting against, by dedicating itself to high quality production?
“Some poor quality products have entered Europe – Almendra is right. This is perhaps one reason why some customers come to us,” Perret said.
One big difficulty in Europe was a very strict stevia regulation (Regulation EU 1131/2011) insisting on at least 95% steviol glycoside purity, Perret said, while the rules were not so strict outside the EU.
“We have a regulation problem in Europe,” he said. “The fact that stevia glycosides are classified as an additives means that for the consumer it’s a chemical product.”
“Another point is that it’s not possible to claim for full naturalness. The EU says that steviol glycosides are not natural products, which isn’t the case in the US or other countries in the world,” Perret added.
‘Many people don’t trust it as a natural product’
“So for the moment, when you listen to the media – on the TV or in some papers – many people don’t trust it as a natural product, that’s it’s fully safe, etc. So this makes the European market harder to develop,” he said.
“Stevia is also considered a novel food in EU – it’s not a food plant, so you can’t use anything else than steviol glycosides purified at 95%,” Perret said.
Asked about the marketplace reaction to Stevia Natura’s move to manufacture in France, Perret said: “If you talk with customers they are very happy. We’re also developing the European supply chain, so today we have partners in Southern Europe – Greece, Macedonia, Spain, even in Morocco.”
We have farmers starting to produce significant quantities of good quality leaves now. So we could have a European supply chain, and the customers are very happy about that,” he added.
But when the discussion turned to price, Perret said, it was a different situation, with the fight to save costs at every level bringing difficulties vis-à-vis competing with Chinese suppliers.
“In the end the final decision is often on the price. We have some very good customers. But it’s very difficult, even if we have quality and the fact that production is in Europe,” he said.