It would not discuss the competitive set (the brand will be going head to head with Cargill’s Truvia brand), but said it was confident that its stevia leaf extract – which it says contains higher levels of the better-tasting steviol glycoside Reb D – was superior to stevia/erythritol blends just using Reb A, which is available at higher concentrations in the stevia leaf, but has more bitter notes.
VP marketing Kim Holdsworth told FoodNavigator-USA: “The tabletop sweeteners category has been declining overall because of the declining sales of artificial sweeteners, and I think that retailers see the category as a bit sleepy.
“Natural sweeteners are growing, but not by enough to offset the overall decline, and part of the reason we believe is that there has not been a great-tasting [natural] product, which is why we are very excited about the launch of SPLENDA Naturals.”
She would not say whether the product performed better than Truvia in consumer taste tests or provide details of how the company had purified the stevia extracts to obtain higher levels of Reb-D (a glycoside that is only available at very low levels in stevia plants), describing the process as “proprietary and confidential," although the company has been very transparent about the overall process on its website.
How 'natural' are 'natural sweeteners?'
While calling any product ‘natural’ is always a risk given that several players in the tabletop sweetener space including Cargill (Truvia), Merisant and Whole Earth Sweeteners (PureVia), and McNeil Nutritionals (Nectresse) have landed in legal hot water over this term, it is still a very meaningful term to consumers shopping the category, added Holdsworth, who said more products under the SPLENDA Naturals brand were in the pipeline.
“We’re very aware of what’s been going on in the category legally but when it comes down to it, this is how the category is being discussed [artificial vs natural].”
"Our goal was to provide consumers with a better-tasting alternative to stevia sweeteners currently on the market."
Ted Gelov, chairman and CEO, Heartland Food Products Group
There are different definitions of ‘natural’ in the food industry and among consumers
The company added in a statement: “There are different definitions of ‘natural’ in the food industry and among consumers. For us at SPLENDA Brand, ‘natural’ means no added flavors or colors, no preservatives, and only non-GMO ingredients made by minimal and common processes.”
While erythritol is found naturally in some fruits, it is typically produced commercially via chemically extracting starch from corn, converting the starch to glucose via enzymatic hydrolysis, fermenting the glucose using yeast, and then sterilizing filtering, and purifying the fermentation broth to produce erythritol crystals, a process some plaintiff’s attorneys have argued that the reasonable consumer would not consider to be very ‘natural.’
Given that most corn grown in the US is genetically engineered, SPLENDA brand owner Heartland Food Products Group has also made every attempt to ensure that SPLENDA Naturals meets consumer expectations of ‘natural’ by using non-GMO Project verified erythritol made from non-GMO corn dextrose, said Holdsworth.
The company has also been transparent about where its ingredients come from and what kind of processing they undergo, she said.