GLG’s BlendSure products contain at least 95 percent steviol glycosides – the sweet components of the stevia leaf – and either 60, 70, or 80 percent Reb A – the component said to have the taste profile closest to that of sucrose. Currently stevia-derived sweeteners containing at least 95 percent steviol glycosides conform to JECFA (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives) standards, used as a reference point for food standards in many countries across the world, but not in the United States, where food additives are subject to the FDA's GRAS process.
Speaking with journalists at the company’s facilities in China, vice president of marketing at GLG Life Tech James Kempland said: “We are expecting to have a no objection letter from the FDA for BlendSure by the end of the year. We are now about 60 days out from a self-affirmation letter, which will coincide with companies’ product development.”
Kempland explained that it normally takes companies about 20 months to develop a product with a new ingredient such as stevia – slightly more than the length of time that has passed since the FDA issued its first letters of no objection in the United States in December 2008.
GLG’s BlendSure products are part of the company’s strategy to protect against variations in the taste of stevia extracts, by giving it greater control over precise ratios of steviol glycosides. As an agricultural product, possible variation in flavor from one growing area to another and from one season to another has been a concern for food and beverage manufacturers. But Kempland told FoodNavigator-USA.com that the degree of purification required to obtain Reb A should annul those fears, adding that controlled blends of different sweet components, such as in BlendSure, allow for a better taste profile and a more consistent product.
US product launches
The US is considered a key market for stevia, which can be used as a complement to sugar or as a substitute for synthetic sweeteners.
It became commercially viable in the United States when two applicants, Merisant Company and Cargill, received FDA GRAS notification after submitting evidence to show that Reb A was safe for use in the food supply. Since then, major food and beverage manufacturers have rushed to introduce new products containing the sweetener. According to market research organization Mintel, more than 100 stevia-containing products have already been launched in the United States this year alone and the launch rate is picking up pace. Mintel has said it expects sales of stevia-sweetened products to top $2bn by 2011.