The new Zeta family of products - which utilizes multiple steviol glycosides – can help manufacturers achieve significantly deeper sugar reductions without compromising on taste, PureCircle’s president, group sales and marketing, Jason Hecker, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“Within this portfolio we also have a glycosolated product that starts with traditional stevia leaf extract that’s purified to 95% and then we use a natural enzyme to join glucose or other sugar molecules to the steviol glycosides in order to improve taste [this will likely compete with products derived from a fermentation process, but may be more attractive to manufacturers and consumers because it still starts with the stevia leaf, claimed Hecker].”
All of the Zeta portfolio is derived from the stevia leaf
But will the use of ‘modifications’ such as this change perceptions of how ‘natural’ stevia products are, even if they are still derived from the leaf, especially as consumers (and plaintiff’s attorneys) scrutinize processing methods more carefully for ingredients derived from ‘natural’ sources?
“All of the Zeta portfolio is derived from the stevia leaf,” stressed Hecker, who noted that this is not the case with all stevia-‘like’ sweeteners, some of which (eg. those derived from a fermentation process using baker’s yeast) do not involve stevia leaves at all.
“Our [glycosolated] product is just another path [to achieving a clean sweet taste with low/zero calories] that may be of interest to some customers, but we are completely transparent about how it is made and label it as such.”
There’s even a question as to whether products from fermentation warrant being called ‘steviol glycosides’
When it comes to how all the different options in the market are positioned and labeled, he said, “For some consumers, the fact that products come from the leaf might be more compelling than if they come from a genetically modified yeast, but the book has not been written on how this will all play out [from a labeling perspective] yet.”
Asked how firms might differentiate between fermented products and those that originate from the stevia leaf on the ingredients label, he said:
“It’s true that only products that come from the leaf can be described as ‘stevia leaf extract’ or ‘glycosolated stevia leaf extract’ [as opposed to, say, ‘steviol glycosides’ or ‘Reb A’, ‘Reb M’, or ‘Reb D’].
“But there’s even a question to be discussed as to whether products from fermentation even warrant being called ‘steviol glycosides’ because they are not from the stevia leaf. I think there will be a lot of discussion about this, or the use of disclaimers, for example. But as a starting point, what’s called stevia, should come from the stevia leaf.”
Reb A is just a small fraction of our global sales now
While the stevia market did not explode out of the blocks in the fashion that some analysts had predicted back in 2007/8, few stakeholders today doubt that it is a huge and growing opportunity, as the fundamental drivers that generated all the excitement around stevia in the first place – rising rates of overweight and obesity, growing interest in health & wellness and the pressure to reduce sugar – have not changed, and if anything have intensified, said Hecker.
“We’re been growing 30% year-on-year and it still feels like we’re just scratching the surface. We’re seeing interest from every major market – including India, which has just opened up [to stevia products], in application areas from dairy to beverages. There were more than 2,500 products using stevia across every major food and beverage category this year, and now it’s happening with bigger brands doing bigger things in bigger markets.”
Asked about the competitive set, he said: “To compete with the vision that we have, which is to take about 20% of the sugar market, you need to be able to do a lot of things very well, from breeding, to manufacturing, to distribution, to formulation, marketing, and you have to do it in a sustainable and commercially viable way.”
The winners in the stevia market will also need a broad toolbox with tailored products for specific applications to impress top tier manufacturers, he said: “Reb A is just a small fraction of our global sales now, we have 17 different products now.”