Steviol glycosides produced by fermentation could be on the market in the coming years due to advances made by Swiss company Evolva and Californian R&D partner Abunda Nutrition, which it plans to acquire.
Stevia sweeteners have attracted great interest and R&D spend by the food and beverage industry in recent years following FDA GRAS (generally recognised as safe) status of high purity Reb-A in late 2008, and subsequently other steviol glycosides.
European approval, according to the FAO/WHO JECFA specifications, is expected this year.
While all the steviol gycosides currently available are derived from the native Paraguauan plant, but Evolva and Abunda have been quietly working on proprietary technology to make them via fermentation in yeast.
“This process bypasses the complex logistics associated with the traditional cultivation, processing and refining of stevia plants, and allows pure stevia sweetness components to be produced,” said Evolva.
Steviol glycosides produced in this way are still a few years from market. The main task for the next 12 to 18 months will be to further improve the yield and transfer to the scale-up phase.
However the development could eventually mean cheaper steviol gycosides will be available for food and beverage manufacturers. CEO Neil Goldsmith told FoodNavigator.com: “The logic of the approach is to achieve better economies, but I wouldn’t want to go into more details than that”.
He said that the whole spectrum of steviol glycosides can be produced using the method. This would allow manufacturers to use the blends best suited to application needs.
Goldsmith expects that by the time Evolva is ready to market its fermentation-produced sweetness components the full spectrum of steviol glycosides will have GRAS status and novel foods approval. This means that the company will only have to seek substantial equivalence – a much quicker process.
Goldsmith said: “We intend to commercialise Stevia following our established business-to-business model and expect to actively enter collaborations with companies regarding manufacturing scale-up and commercialisation.”
In the meantime, Evolva’s plan to acquire venture capital-funded Abunda, which has been approved by both boards but has yet to get the nod from Evolva shareholders, will help speed the progress to market.
Chief scientific officer Prof Jutta Heim said that the teams have been working together for the last two years and already know each other well.
“We anticipate a straightforward and seamless integration with even greater success in the future.”
In addition to the stevia interest, Evolva’s acquisition of Abunda will also bring it more new technologies in the nutrition sector. These are said to address some of the pressing health issues of modern times, such as diabetes and obesity, but no precise details have been released.
The acquisition of 100 per cent of Abunda’s share capital will be for 25 million Evolva shares, representing 12.9 per cent of Evolva’s share capital, plus additional shares if certain milestones are achieved.
Evolva’s shares closed at CHF1.58 yesterday.