The plan – which remains “subject to the successful completion by Spring 2017 of ongoing negotiations between Evolva and Cargill” – is to first produce the sweetener in Blair, Nebraska through retrofitting existing Cargill facilities, and then explore a move to a new facility that may also act as a production hub for other Evolva products, including nootkatone and resveratrol, said Evolva CEO Neil Goldsmith.
“An EverSweet launch in 2018 would maintain our first mover advantage in the next generation stevia market.”
If talks with Cargill don’t “translate to an agreement that Evolva believes is value creating for its shareholders,” Evolva will “focus on maximising value from its launched, and commercially promising, nootkatone and resveratrol products,” he added.
Evolva CEO: A 2018 launch would still maintain our first mover advantage
EverSweet was originally scheduled to hit the market in 2016 following a soft launch at the Supply Side West show in 2015. However, while Cargill and Evolva claimed to have nailed the taste, they acknowledged in March 2016 that they had yet to refine the production process such that costs were at an acceptable level.
The launch, said Evolva at the time, was delayed owing to a “complex combination of factors, including strain characteristics; fermentation and downstream processing costs; facility conversion costs, production scale, customer indications on pricing.”
In today's release, Evolva predicted that “a launch-ready strain will be achieved during 2017.”
While the best-known steviol glycoside - Reb A – can be extracted from the stevia leaf in commercial quantities, it has a bitter aftertaste that formulators have struggled to overcome in certain applications.
However, better-tasting steviol glycosides such as Reb M and Reb D are present in the stevia leaf in such tiny quantities (less than 0.5% by dry leaf weight), Cargill and Evolva claims that it is not commercially viable or environmentally responsible (you’d need huge amounts of land devoted to stevia plants) to extract them from stevia leaves.
By using a genetically engineered baker’s yeast to convert sugars (Cargill is using corn dextrose as a feedstock but could use cane sugar) into these more desirable glycosides via a fermentation process, Cargill and Evolva can produce them on a commercial scale.
According to Cargill, which said today that second quarter earnings in its food ingredients and applications division "saw a solid rebound over last year’s second quarter," EverSweet delivers “a great taste with better sweetness intensity, faster sweetness onset and improved sweetness quality - without the bitterness or off-note aftertaste common with other stevia sweeteners.”
In summer 2016, the FDA issued a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) no objections letter for EverSweet, qualifying it for use in food and beverages.
EverSweet works particularly well in low and zero calorie beverages
While the production process has been getting more media attention than the products, the feedback from leading CPG companies suggests EverSweet could be a game-changer in the beverage industry as firms look to make more drastic reductions in sugar, Cargill told FoodNavigator-USA in late 2015.
If the first wave of Reb-A sweeteners enabled sugar reductions of 30%, and platforms such as Cargill’s ViaTech have since pushed the bar to 70% or more, Reb D and Reb M can deliver the Holy Grail in beverage formulation, a zero calorie cola, without any bitter aftertaste, the company claimed.
Cargill has also used EverSweet in zero-calorie fruit waters, sweet teas, lemon-lime sodas and other products that have a full-bodied mouthfeel and sugar-like taste profile that is “just not possible” with the Reb-A based sweeteners currently on the market, the company added.
What is EverSweet? A high-potency sweetener developed by Swiss synthetic biology pioneer Evolva and US ingredients giant Cargill comprising the steviol glycosides Reb D and Reb M (which are found naturally in the stevia leaf in very low concentrations).
How is it made? In large fermentation tanks, in which a genetically engineered baker’s yeast converts sugars (in this case, corn dextrose) into Reb D and Reb M. The yeast is completely removed from the final product, which is further concentrated and purified.
How is it labeled? Reb M and Reb D/steviol glycosides/Rebaudioside M and Rebaudioside D.
What are the potential applications? Everything from dairy to tabletop sweeteners and alcoholic beverages, but low or zero calorie beverages are the sweet spot.
Is it safe? Cargill has received a letter of no objection from the FDA over its GRAS determination for EverSweet.
When will it launch? 2018… assuming negotiations between Cargill and Evolva go well.
Is it ‘natural’? Cargill isn’t actively marketing EverSweet as a natural sweetener, and says it has worked extensively with consumers, NGOs, and customers to decide how to position it to keep everyone happy: “We’re not trying to disguise anything or mislead anyone. We’re not saying EverSweet is from the stevia leaf; we’re not using it in our Truvia stevia business [which uses steviol glycosides extracted from stevia leaves]; and we’re not even actually marketing it as stevia, even though the Reb D and Reb M we’re producing is chemically identical to what you’d extract from the leaf."
Is it non-GMO? The genetically engineered yeast used to make EverSweet serves as a processing aid, and is not present in the final product, meaning it would not require a GMO label under new federal GMO labeling legislation. However, it wouldn’t pass muster with the Non-GMO Project, which says ingredients produced via ‘synthetic biology’ do not qualify for its Non-GMO Project Verified stamp.