A raft of new food and drink products containing an intense natural sweetener from monk fruit (luo han guo) could hit shelves in the United States this year, according to the New Zealand-based firm driving its commercialization.
While a search of Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) could only identify five US products featuring the fruit concentrate, several of the nation’s biggest food manufacturers have requested samples, with many looking to combine it with stevia in a bid to capitalize on its all natural credentials, Paul Paslaski, vice president sales & marketing USA, at monk fruit processor BioVittoria, told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
“We’d be hard pressed to name a major company in the US food sector that hasn’t sampled it now, but there is only so much we can make public right now. What I can say is that some of the major food companies are working with our Fruit-Sweetness product so we are hopeful that there will be several launches this year.”
Fruit is trusted by consumers
He added: “The most interest right now is in dairy, juice drinks, and waters. There is also however considerable interest in soft drinks, cereals, biscuits and confectionery including gum. It is a fruit, and has a clean sweet taste. The most compelling advantage over Reb A [from stevia] is that Fruit-Sweetness does not have the lingering bitterness characteristic of Reb A.
“Manufacturers like the fact that it is from a fruit. Our research also shows that moms trust a sweetener from a fruit.”
Around 150 times sweeter than sugar, Fruit-Sweetness secured a letter of no objection from the Food and Drug Administration in January 2010 affirming its Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status as a sweetener and flavor enhancer in a wide range of foods and drinks.
The fruit concentrate, which is heat- and acid-stable and soluble in water, does not have the “bitter off notes" associated with some other sweeteners, claimed Paslaski “We have seen benefits in blending Fruit-Sweetness with Reb A which reduces the Reb A lingering bitterness and gives a more sugar-like sweetness profile without having to use erythritol.”
As for the price, a lot depended on acidity, he said. “In a neutral pH product like a chocolate milk you get a tremendous amount of sweetness, which makes it very cost effective. In a more acidic application, you’d need to use more but in combination with stevia it can work out to be very cost effective here too.”
According to Mintel’s GNPD, new US launches containing monk fruit concentrate include two cereals from Kashi, a whey protein meal replacement drink from Biochem, Fruity Dophilus probiotic drink mix sachets from Enhanced Nutrition Concepts and a table top sweetener from Swanson Health Products.
Scott Martling, global business development director at product development firm the International Food Network, predicted a lot of interest in the US given that demand for natural sweeteners in general was “skyrocketing”. Consumers, meanwhile, had “come to expect low sugar products that are also natural”.
Growing interest in Europe
While luo han guo is not yet approved for use in Europe (BioVittoria is “working towards a regulatory submission for the EU”), food manufacturers have already approached experts at UK-based firm RSSL keen to experiment with samples in the event that it does get the regulatory thumbs up.
Fruit-Sweetness is produced via a patented process from fruit cultivated using BioVittoria's patented plant varieties.
The intensity of the sweetness in the extracts is directly proportional to levels of a compound called Mogroside V in the flesh of the fruit.