Right now, these lesser-known steviol glycosides are in high demand because they taste better than Reb A, which is known for its bitter and licorice aftertaste, GLG president Brian Meadows told FoodNavigator-USA.
The problem is that Reb D concentrations in stevia leaves are typically between 0.2% and 0.5% and Reb M between 0.01% and 0.05 %, whereas Reb A is typically 7-10% by dry weight.
As a result, it is not currently commercially viable – or indeed environmentally responsible (you’d need huge tracts of land devoted to stevia plants) - to extract Reb D or Reb M from stevia leaves, he acknowledged. But it will be in future, he said.
“The stevia leaf typically has around 0.3% Reb D and we’ve doubled that to 0.7% and we think we can keep doubling this until we ultimately get up to a level of 15% of total steviol glycoside weight (or 2 -3% on a dry weight basis); I think that’s viable.”
But how long will this take, assuming it is theoretically possible?
“We’re talking years, but not 10 years,” said Meadows. “We did it with Reb C [GLG says it has used patented non-GMO breeding techniques to increase the Reb C content in stevia plants from around 1% to almost 7%] in two to three years.
“We’ve also done it with Reb A. Our super RA product will be commercially available next year, and it’s a major breakthrough as it has triple the naturally-occurring amount of Reb A vs stevia varieties in the marketplace today. This will put us in a very cost competitive position.”
Some manufacturers happy with fermentation-derived stevia, others want to stick with the leaf
As for the stevia market, there will be room for products derived from the leaf and from microbial fermentation, he predicted. “It all depends on what food and beverage manufacturers want. Some will be comfortable with fermentation products and some will only want to use stevia from the leaf.”
But for those looking for leaf-derived stevia ingredients, the winners will be players “with a strong agricultural base, which is where we have a clear advantage as we have our own patented varieties with higher levels of glycosides”, he said.
Monk fruit potential
GLG is also making progress in its monk fruit extract operations – and now supplies Tate & Lyle along with Monk Fruit Corp (previously BioVittoria), said Meadows, although the market would not likely become as large as the stevia market owing to the higher price and the fact that the growing areas are more limited.
“Monk fruit is traditionally grown only in certain areas in China whereas stevia can be grown pretty much anywhere.”
He added: “Monk fruit is more expensive than stevia but it has a better flavor profile, and we’re seeing more mainstream food and beverage companies using it now, mainly in beverages and dairy products such as yogurts.”
Several high-profile consumer brands including Zevia zero calorie sodas and Chobani’s Simply 100 Greek yogurt range combine stevia and monk fruit and claim the taste profile is superior to those sweetened with stevia alone, he added.
For the three months ended June 30, 2015, GLG posted a net loss of Canadian $3.5m on revenues up 100% to $8m.
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.