In an exclusive interview with this publication, Karl Kramer, president of innovation and commercial development at Tate & Lyle, said the company intends to market the zero-calorie fruit-derived sweetener under the Purefruit brand name.
Monk fruit, also known as luo han guo, produces a sweetener about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is native to Southeast Asia, where New Zealand-based BioVittoria sources the bulk of the fruit it uses for its extraction process, which involves steeping the pulp of the fruit in hot water and drying – and Kramer said that Tate & Lyle has just filed for intellectual property rights for a further natural purification step.
The possibility that monk fruit extract could be combined with stevia is one area that has piqued the interest of some manufacturers, but Kramer said Tate & Lyle sees particular potential for the sweetener in reduced calorie products, rather than necessarily zero-calorie foods and beverages.
“It could be a straight replacement for a zero calorie product but it could be a unique opportunity to develop a mid-calorie or reduced calorie product,” he said. “…We currently see Purefruit being used in combination with nutritive sweeteners such as sugar or corn sugar but it could be used in combination with stevia too.”
Kramer said that there are several options for listing the sweetener on food labels, but Tate & Lyle would recommend listing it as ‘monk fruit extract’.
Regarding the cost effectiveness of the ingredient, he said that monk fruit extract is not necessarily cheaper than other sweeteners, but could allow manufacturers to expand their business into areas in which they are not currently active, such as the natural, mid-calorie or reduced calorie arenas.
“One of the things to keep in mind is that in many formulations sweetener cost is a very small part of the total cost,” he said. “…Natural products generally command a higher price premium.”
In the company’s own internal research, Tate & Lyle found that 92 percent of consumers find the claim "naturally sweetened" as appealing and, according to Kramer, monk fruit is especially appealing because it tastes good, has no calories, is made from fruit, and is natural.
“For moms with children and health conscious women in particular it is a very compelling proposition,” he said. “…The fruit aspect is one aspect that gives peace of mind, particularly with these two groups.”
He added that the company is “very comfortable” that it can meet a rapid acceleration in demand for the sweetener in a way that is sustainable – an issue that has also resonated with customers in initial discussions.
Commenting on the agreement, BioVittoria CEO David Thorrold said in a statement: “Tate & Lyle is a recognized global leader in ingredients and solutions. They have both the resources and food and beverage relationships to accelerate the adoption of this unique natural ingredient.”
BioVittoria received an FDA letter of no objection that its sweetener was GRAS (generally recognized as safe) in January 2010.