Low cal sports nutrition products are big stevia opportunity, Cargill says

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Cargill offers stevia ingredients made from the leaves.  It is also developing a fermentation platform to commercialize rebaudosides that occur at only very low levels in the plant.  Cargill photo.
Cargill offers stevia ingredients made from the leaves. It is also developing a fermentation platform to commercialize rebaudosides that occur at only very low levels in the plant. Cargill photo.

Related tags Sports nutrition Stevia

The exploding sports nutrition market offers significant opportunity for alternative sweeteners taking stevia and erythritol beyond their applications as food ingredients, said Cargill experts.

Scott Fabro, Cargill’s global programs marketing manager, said sports nutrition is one of the fastest growth categories in the market. And while a number of these products provide carbohydrates as an energy source for hard workouts or for sustained energy during endurance events, there is a significant subset where exercisers are seeking rehydration and replenishment support while still taking in few or no calories. 

Growing category

“We see today a lot of growth in the beverage category, especially in sports type beverages,”​ Fabro told NutraIngredients-USA. “It’s both diet- and performance-related. In the past diet products were all about cutting calories. Today these products provide additional benefits like being high in protein.

“They often want no added sugar. It has gone from just rehydrate to where these beverages need to fortify and replenish. People who are watching their exercise routines are also watching their calories. We believe stevia fits directly in that role,” ​he said.

Cargill offers its tried and true brand Truvia, based on Reb A. The company launched a stevia solution based on other rebaudiosides in the leaf with their ViaTech portfolio.  They are also working on a sweetener called EverSweet, with steviol glycosides made via fermentation, in partnership with Evolva.”.

Viatech stands for a swath of new technological approaches to using the non nutritive sweetener. It’s well known that the leaf, while offering exciting possibilities for calorie reduction, has continued to be plagued with drawbacks that have thus far prevented it from completely replacing sugar or other nutritive sweeteners in most applications. The chief complaints are “linger,” or stevia’s delayed onset of sweetness on the tongue, and bitterness, which is sometimes characterized as a licorice taste off note.

Fabro said Cargill has dealt with this problem by deconstructing the stevia leaf and looking at each of the steviol glycosides individually.

“We identified the unique characteristics of each glycoside for sweetness, bitterness and linger,” ​Fabro said. After going through that process, the company could identify which blends at which ratios perform best in given applications.

Rare rebaudosides

Among the glycosides investigated were Rebaudoside D and Rebaudoside M. These have interesting properties that, when used in the right ratios with other leaf constituents, will pave the way for complete sugar replacement, Fabro said. The problem with them is that there isn’t enough of these compounds in the base leaf. 

“In the future we see fermentation as a path to get to those glycosides that are so tiny in the leaf,” ​Fabro said. “Reb M or Reb D are not there to displace Reb A but rather to open a new space in beverages where it really opens up that 70% to 100% calorie reduction.”

Branded as EverSweet, the ingredients are set to be commercialized later this year. Fabro said Cargill feels it has nothing to hide in terms of how these ingredients are made so long as they are clearly and accurately labeled so that consumers can make their own choices.

“With EverSweet we can target the zero calorie space where other sweeteners struggle,” ​Fabro said. “We have targeted this space in a completely transparent manner.”

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