Vancouver-based stevia supplier GLG Life Tech is moving into the monk fruit (luo han guo) sweeteners market and expects to have commercial quantities of high-purity extracts available later this year.
The firm, which grows and processes its stevia extracts in China, has spent months building up the infrastructure and intellectual property that it hopes will give it a significant presence - over time - in the monk fruit sweeteners market as well.
Its goal - according to CEO Dr Luke Zhang - is to be “the vertically integrated leader in luo han guo agriculture and production”, while bosses are confident that in around three years they will be able to get the cost of the luo han guo extracts down to two or three times the cost of Reb A 97 on a weight-for-weight basis.
Production of high purity monk fruit extracts using this year's crop is expected to start in the third quarter of 2014
To date GLG has obtained seedlings; contracted with growers and storage facilities; and started kitting out its stevia processing facility in Runyang, China, to produce the extracts.
It has also filed a patent with the country’s State Intellectual Property Bureau for its proprietary high purity luo han guo extraction and production process, and luo han guo formulations in food and beverage applications.
Plantings will begin in the spring, while production using this year's crop is expected to start in the third quarter of 2014. On the regulatory front, GLG is currently working through the GRAS self-determination process for the extracts.
Zevia sodas and Chobani’s Simply 100 Greek yogurts both use stevia and monk fruit combinations
President and chief financial officer Brian Meadows told FoodNavigator-USA that sample quantities of GLG’s product are in the marketplace and getting positive feedback from companies developing everything from soda to yogurt, table top sweeteners and dietary supplements.
Meanwhile, growing numbers of food and beverage firms are combining Reb-A (the best known steviol glycoside) with monk fruit, which can round off the bitterness of Reb A, he said.
While better-tasting minor steviol glycosides such as Reb D and Reb M (X) are being commercialized, they are more expensive as they are found in far lower quantities than Reb-A in the stevia leaf, he said, and if you try producing them via fermentation to cut costs, your ‘all-natural’ credentials could be under threat.
“More companies are therefore combining Reb-A with luo han guo as it works really synergistically - it’s a better way of covering the inherent limitations of stevia," he said, citing recent launches such as Zevia's re-vamped zero calorie sodas and Chobani’s new Simply 100 Greek yogurt range .
We can get 60% mogroside V purity and we’re working on 70-80% extracts
The technology covered in GLG’s patent results in higher yields of mogroside (the sweet part) from the fruit and higher purity extracts, said Meadows. “We can get 60% mogroside V purity and we’re working on 70-80% extracts. That’s a lot higher than what’s on the market right now.
“It also makes perfect sense for us to do this as we have the infrastructure already in place in China, and good relationships with the Chinese government through COFCO [China's largest food company, which is working with GLG on developing foods and beverages with stevia to tackle the nation’s obesity and diabetes epidemic].