GLG unveils Reb C breakthrough: 'An astounding leap forward in the natural, non-GMO agronomic development of historically scarcer steviol glycosides'

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

GLG unveils stevia plant with ultra high Reb C levels

Related tags Stevia

Vancouver-based GLG Life Tech has developed a new variety of stevia containing “remarkably high” levels of Reb C glycosides, which it claims could “revolutionize the global food and beverage industry’s ability to utilize naturally-sourced Reb C”.

While it is possible to produce steviol glycosides via microbial fermentation, many buyers want a product that comes directly from the stevia leaf, noted GLG, which said work is also progressing on stevia plants that contain higher levels of Reb D and Reb M (aka. Reb X).

These sought-after glycosides - which lack the bitterness of best-known glycoside Reb A - typically occur in such low concentrations in the leaf that processing costs to extract and purify them on a commercial scale are “virtually prohibitive​”, it claimed.

 “Reb C, at the low levels at which it previously occurred, is especially costly to process to a high level of purity, and there has been insufficient supply to meet market demand. But with GLG’s development of the H6 strain and its much higher natural concentrations of Reb C, these cost and processing challenges will be greatly mitigated, thus enabling production of high-purity Reb C at costs comparable to that of high-purity Reb A and at volumes the market requires.

“This is an astounding leap forward in the natural, non-GMO agronomic development of the historically scarcer steviol glycosides; one that GLG expects will have a major impact on the stevia market as it exists today.”

H6 seedlings contain up to 7% Reb C

The H6 stevia seedlings - developed via patented non-GMO breeding techniques by GLG’s wholly owned Chinese subsidiary Anhui Bengbu HN Stevia High Tech Development Co. Ltd - contain Reb C concentrations “verging on 7%” ​compared with the average of <1%.  

They also contain higher-than-average levels of Reb A and have TSG (total steviol glycoside) levels nearing 13% of leaf content, “which is on the high end for stevia leaf in the market today​”, added the firm.

 “Reb A is predominant in today’s stevia market, even with the well-known issue of its bitter aftertaste; the introduction of Reb C in large-scale quantities, with its better flavor profile, could turn the market on its ear. Reb C, along with Reb D and Reb M have the most desirable flavor profiles, whether relative to or as used in conjunction with the industry-dominant Reb A.”

GLG chairman and CEO Dr. Luke Zhang said: “To the best of GLG’s knowledge, there is no other seedling available in the market today that comes anywhere close to having the Reb C levels found in GLG’s H6 seedling. GLG has previously worked with Reb C in product formulation; Reb C has shown to be favorable in terms of flavor profile and as a sweetening agent.”

GRAS determination for Reb C has been submitted to the FDA

While Reb C enhances the effect of other sweeteners, and can mask some of the bitterness of Reb A (according to GLG), it also has sweetening properties of its own, said GLG, which filed a GRAS application with the FDA for Reb C with purity levels from 80% to 95% to be used as a sweetener earlier this year. It has also filed patents covering both purification of and formulation applications using Reb C, which it plans to market as a sweetener under the trade name ‘Reb C Gold’.

The plan is to plant the new H6 seedlings in the spring of 2015 in a limited capacity, with full commercial scale implementation commencing in 2016.

GRAS determination for luo han guo (monk fruit) extracts gets letter of no objection from FDA

Separately, GLG has also received a letter of no objection from the FDA responding to a GRAS determination for its luo han guo (monk fruit) extracts MV30, MV50, MV60 (each containing a minimum level of mogroside V - the part that makes them sweet - at 30%, 50%, and 60%, respectively).  

GLG, which has implemented a large-scale agriculture program to expand monk fruit production in Guilin China, has also converted its stevia processing facility in Runhai to be capable of high-volume and high-purity luo han guo extract production, and announced its first major supply contract for monk fruit in July of this year with a global food company.

GLG is now capable of processing 130 metric tons of MV 50 extract annually, president and chief financial officer Brian Meadows told FoodNavigator-USA.

Meanwhile, growing numbers of food and beverage firms see combining Reb-A with monk fruit - which can round off the bitterness of Reb A - makes sense, he said. "We have also found that Reb C works well with Reb A and monk fruit."

Several high-profile consumer brands including Zevia zero calorie sodas and Chobani’s new Simply 100 Greek yogurt range combine stevia and monk fruit and claim the taste profile is superior to those sweetened with stevia alone, he said.

GLG Lifetech monk fruit factory China
GLG's monk fruit facility in Runhai, China

Reb C complements other sweeteners including Reb A and monk fruit (luo han guo)

GLG’s stock price plummeted in 2011 after bosses revealed they had renegotiated a supply agreement with Cargill such that it would no longer be obliged to purchase most of its stevia from GLG. In May 2012, its shares were suspended after it failed to file its accounts on time.

However, things are now firmly back on track, says the firm, which resumed trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) in 2013 and has been working with China’s largest food company - state-owned COFCO (China National Cereals, Oils, and Foodstuffs Corporation) - on several major healthy food and beverage formulation projects using its sweeteners.

The stevia market: End product pricing is up some 30% to 50%

In its Q3 results statement last month, the firm said: "The overall stevia harvest for 2014 has been in full swing, and GLG notes that this year’s harvest appears to be markedly different from last year’s. Leaf prices have gone up significantly – in some cases doubled over last year’s prices...

"It is now a supplier’s market, and end product pricing is up some 30% to 50%. The market is driven by leaf prices, and is now driven by too much demand chasing limited supply. This has come about in part because end customers have preferred to purchase extract and refined products on the spot market rather than enter longer-term supply agreements."

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