Taste issues and high cost repeatedly have been raised as possible obstacles to widespread acceptance of stevia-derived sweeteners, but one of the many new suppliers entering the market claims that these are no longer the hurdles they once were.
Joseph Zannoni is vice president of development for SoPure, a relative newcomer to the stevia market, produced by Zhucheng Haotian Pharm Co. He claims that the company has developed a manufacturing process for its SoPure-brand stevia extracts that cuts production time from 10 to 15 days, to just two days, from leaf to finished product.
“Not only is it more economical but the taste attributes are different,” he said. “…I believe these advantages will translate into advantages for the customer from a product functionality point of view.”
Apart from the powdered form, with which many food manufacturers will be familiar, the company is also producing a granular stevia product.
“It’s free flowing; you have eliminated a problem with dusting; it blends easier when you are making blends of dry materials; [and]… it has an improved form when it comes to tableting, so it has a lot of functional benefits,” Zannoni said.
What about taste?
However, the sweetener has continued to be plagued by its reputation for a bitter aftertaste. Stevia supplier GLG Life Tech has said that end customers have complained about aftertaste problems when formulating with its stevia extracts.
In a business update issued today (Friday), GLG Life Tech said: “[The] main challenge and biggest difficulty is in formulating with stevia to develop a good tasting product by food and beverage companies.”
Zannoni claims that shortening the production process for stevia results in a better taste profile – and custom blends of steviol glycosides for different applications and customers are also on the rise.
He added that other high intensity sweeteners also had initial challenges with taste acceptance when they were first introduced to the market, as none of them perfectly mimic the taste profile of sucrose.
“When sucralose was introduced into the market – and sucralose is closest to the taste of sugar – there were a lot of the same issues…Suppliers will work out a way to make products that perform well,” he said. “As consumers get more comfortable with the taste of stevia I am confident that will translate into a wide range of product introductions.”
Several stevia suppliers have also suggested that stevia could help manufacturers produce mid-calorie products with reduced sugar and calories, rather than products that eliminate them altogether.
“You achieve a calorie reduction and a cost reduction and you end up with a product that will taste good,” Zannoni said.
With current high sugar prices in the United States, he added that stevia is becoming a more appealing option for manufacturers, particularly as a complement to sugar.
“If you go back a couple of years, the market price for 97% Reb A was well above $200 a kilo, and it is now approaching $100 a kilo…There is not an economic obstacle anymore.”