PureCircle has received a GRAS (generally regarded as safe) letter from the US Food and Drug Administration for its high-purity Rebaudioside M sweetener (also known as Reb M or Reb X), clearing the way for PureCircle to use the sweetener in soft drinks and food.
PureCircle, the world’s largest maker of stevia ingredients, claims that Reb M has a closer taste to table sugar than previous stevia ingredients, allowing for deeper calorie reductions in food and beverage products, particularly those that have higher levels of sweetness.
The development and release of this sweetener resulted from a joint venture deal announced in 2012 between PureCircle and the Coca-Cola Co. to develop commercially viable stevia sweeteners. The two companies are now seeking global intellectual property coverage for Reb M.
Coca-Cola has already launched a stevia-sweetened version of its flagship Coke brand , Coca-Cola Life, in Argentina.
PureCircle claims the clean, sugar-like sweetness of high-purity Reb M is appealing to consumers seeking naturally sweetened food and beverage formulations with few to no calories. Its commercialization will help extend PureCircle’s Stevia 3.0 innovation , which the firm says optimizes taste in stevia-sweetened foods and beverages.
"We continue to progress our development and commercialization plans, which include breakthroughs in natural breeding of proprietary stevia plant varieties and investment in infrastructure to allow us to bring to consumers the very best of the stevia leaf," Jason Hecker, Vice president of global marketing & innovation, told FoodNavigator-USA.
He called the No Objection letter a "milestone" for PureCircle and Coca-Cola that "aligns with our Stevia 3.0TM platform, in which each formulation is uniquely considered to take advantage of the optimal combination of our proprietary ingredients.”
Can Reb M help turn around the slump in diet soda sales?
Diet soda sales continue to decline, as store sales tumbled 6.8% in the 52-week period ending Nov. 23, 2013, according to scanner data analyzed by Nielsen. That's more than three times the 2.2% drop seen in regular sodas during the same period.
Furthermore, if current trends continue, overall soft drink sales could slip 15 to 25% by 2020 driven by sharp declines in diet soda sales, according to projections from Wells Fargo.
Hecker didn't comment on the potential role of Reb M in turning around the decline in soda sales beyond saying, "We're committed to making great tasting, no- and low-calorie beverages."