PureCircle Reb M production climbs with enough supply to sweeten 500 million cases of soft drinks

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Starleaf stevia is reaching costs comparable to conventional sugar, according to PureCircle. ©GettyImages/olm26250
Starleaf stevia is reaching costs comparable to conventional sugar, according to PureCircle. ©GettyImages/olm26250

Related tags Stevia Stevia extracts Purecircle

PureCircle has reached a critical mass of its proprietary Reb M Starleaf stevia, with enough supply to to sweeten approximately 500 million cases of zero-calorie carbonated soft drinks, and in three years, the stevia supplier estimates that it will have enough supply to sweeten 1 billion cases.

Starleaf will soon become PureCircle’s main stevia variety as the company announced earlier this year that it would transition 80% of its total stevia crop to Starleaf in 2018 – the equivalent of roughly 16,000 tons – and increase that amount over time.

This increase in production is supported by the company’s conversion of tobacco fields in North Carolina​ to stevia crops.

Stevia seems to be quickly becoming the high-intensity sweetener of choice with 28% of new product launches featuring the zero-calorie sweetener in 2017, edging out aspartame – which was utilized in 25% of new launches, Mintel data provided by PureCircle showed.

Mintel data found that the number of stevia-containing food and beverages launched specifically for young children grew 16% between 2016 and 2017, compared to a 10% growth rate of the overall stevia food and beverage category.

Use of stevia in food and beverage launches has picked up along with flavor development and improvements in minimizing its bitter aftertaste as well as increasing consumer health concerns related to sugar’s role in obesity and diabetes.

“According to our proprietary research, consumers are turning to stevia because they want a zero-calorie ingredient which is from nature, non-GMO and derived directly from the stevia leaf,”​ Carolyn Clark, PureCircle director of global marketing, told FoodNavigator-USA.

According to PureCircle, if demand from food and beverage companies matches its growing supply, the cost of using Reb M will be equivalent to purchasing conventional sugar while achieving the same level of sweetness.

A number of beverage and food companies are already using PureCircle’s Reb M in their products, the company said, and also suggested that manufacturers label it as the more consumer-friendly “stevia leaf extract”​ on products as it comes directly from the stevia plant.

Using enzymatic technology

The advantage of Starleaf is that it yields over 20x of the most sugar-like content (Reb M and D) than conventional leaf varieties, the company said.

“But there’s still more work to do. The current generation of Starleaf stevia has 20x the content of those sugar like glycosides ​​[vs a standard stevia plant], but the next generation we’ve got in trial plots right now has 40x the content,” Son previously told FoodNavigator-USA​.

The challenge with using Reb M from stevia is that it’s only present in small amounts in conventional stevia plants, which is why PureCircle developed its own strain of the stevia (Starleaf) that contained greater amounts of Reb M.

PureCircle also developed another method of producing Reb M in greater amounts using an enzymatic process.

The company uses Reb M both directly from the Starleaf stevia plant where the sugar-like glycoside is most abundant, as well as from other stevia sweeteners in the plant.  In the latter case, PureCircle starts with purified stevia leaf extract with low Reb M content and by adding an enzyme, the maturation to Reb M is completed, just as the leaf does naturally.

The Reb M produced from both processes are identical in taste as well as being non-GMO and GRAS.

PureCircle has 72 patents granted and 200 pending covering its research and development work with stevia.

“The story of stevia is evolving, and PureCircle is leading that evolution. Not long ago, stevia was a little known, plant-based zero-calorie sweetener – basically one ingredient, Reb A — that worked well in some beverage and food applications,” ​the company noted.  

“But today, we offer Reb M and other stevia leaf sweetener ingredients with sugar-like taste and zero calories.“

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