Coca-Cola and Cargill will move to introduce their stevia sweetener product in countries where the ingredient is already approved, the firms have confirmed.
"We are clear in our intent to bring this to commercial scale," Cargill told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
The two firms last year gave a massive push to the natural sweetener when they confirmed they were teaming up to develop their own stevia product - Rebiana.
Derived from a plant native to South America , stevia has grabbed the attention of the western food industry through its potential to become a natural rival to artificial sweetener products currently on the market.
However, although the ingredient has been approved for years in countries such as Japan, Brazil and China, it has not as yet achieved food additive status in the US, Canada and Europe .
Nevertheless, Cargill and Coca-Cola have identified the potential of the ingredient in a market increasingly seeking 'natural' foods and beverages. Last year Coca-Cola filed 24 patent applications for the ingredient, and the firms are soon expected to petition the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval.
But they will not wait for the ingredient to be approved in the west in order to start marketing Rebiana and products made with this.
"We will sell in the markets where regulatory approval already exists and we'll work through the paths for regulatory approval in other countries around the world, including the US," Cargill spokesperson Ann Tucker told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
Rebiana will be used in both foods and drinks, she said.
Coca-Cola will have first rights to use the ingredient in beverages, while the two firms will also make it available for use in food products, where testing is already underway.
"We're going to open up this market to everyone," said Tucker.
Ingredient makers and food and beverage manufacturers in the US are holding their breath for the first move to come from the two giants.
Although many have identified the potential of the ingredient and are positioning themselves to take their slice of the market, they are waiting for the path to be cleared by Cargill and Coca-Cola, two companies with the resources to push things forwards.
It is no secret that the two leaders will soon petition FDA to approve the ingredient for use in foods and drinks, but they are not revealing when this action will be taken.
"The 'when' is the question that everyone wants an answer to. It is what will unlock the market," said Cargill.
"It takes a lot of time and resources to do this. That's one of the reasons why Coca-Cola and Cargill teamed up. It's long, hard work to get it right - you have to be a marathon runner. If it had been easy it would have been done before," said Tucker.
Part of the difficulty, she said, is that all stevia is not alike. There are around 200 varieties of stevia.
"What we did with Coca-Cola that no one else has been able to do is really unlock how to work the ingredient. It's deceptively simple, but there is a lot of science behind it."
"We've worked on our ingredient for a long time and have fully characterized it. It's going to be very different to what's already been on the market - different in the sense of achieving the 'right sweet'," she said.
Cargill and Coca-Cola have developed supply chains around the world. "This is not a 'one-supplier' kind of ingredient."
Two of these are GLG Life Tech and PureCircle.