FDA Approval Leads to Increased Stevia Use

With FDA approval, Coke and Pepsi already rolled out drinks; Dr Pepper promises one.

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In the waning days of 2008 – Dec. 17 to be exact – the FDA issued letters to Cargill Inc. and Whole Earth Sweetener Co., a subsidiary of Merisant Co., stating the agency has no objections to their separate claims that rebaudioside A (reb-A), a highly purified derivative of the stevia plant, poses no health threat when used in foods and beverages.

Both companies filed notices with the agency in May 2008 claiming the sweetener should be generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Cargill’s research was for 97 percent pure reb-A and Whole Earth’s was for 95 percent purity. 

Overnight, Cargill Inc. began running TV ads promoting its tabletop sweetener Truvia – which already had been on the market – and the next day Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. announced new, already produced beverages that would feature the product. Dr Pepper Snapple Group promised similar, though unnamed, developments.

Coca-Cola, which has allied itself with Cargill even during the research and development of their reb-A, immediately launched two Odwalla drinks: Mojito Mambo and Pomegranate Strawberry. Both are made with natural juices, are fortified to provide 50 percent of the daily value of vitamins C and E and have 50 calories per 8-oz. serving.

Who’s Got the Stevia?
Along with Cargill and Wisdom Brands/Merisant, a handful of other companies are marketing stevia extracts in the U.S.
• Blue California, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., announced completion of its own GRAS self-affirmation the same day as the FDA non-objection letters to Cargill and Wisdom. Its Good&Sweet reb-A is available in both 97 percent and 99 percent purity. Blue California has been producing reb-A since December 2007 and has been working on its GRAS affirmation since February 2008.
•  PureCircle, based in Malaysia but with a U.S. office in Florham Park, N.J., claims to have contracts to supply reb-A to Cargill, PepsiCo and Whole Earth Sweetener Co. South Bend, Ind. Some of its reb-A is marketed under the PureVia brand.
•  Pyure Brands LLC, Naples, Fla., is producing 97 percent reb-A under its own Pyure brand for tabletop use, but wants to specialize as a private-label supplier for grocery stores, as well as being in talks with some commercial customers.
•  Wisdom Natural Brands, Gilbert, Ariz., has been producing a stevia tabletop sweetener under the SweetLeaf brand.
•  GLG Life Tech, Vancouver, British Columbia, also made a GRAS self-declaration the day after the FDA non-objection. Its 97 percent reb-A is called Rebpure. GLG also claims to be a supplier to Cargill.
Coca-Cola is taking a very similar approach with new Sprite Green. It’s also sweetened with Truvia reb-A, made with 5 percent lemon juice and has 50 calories per 8.5-oz. serving. That may be an odd serving size, but it’s rolling out in aluminum bottles and is aimed at “active young adults … Initial availability will be limited to teen and young adult-oriented locations and events with a broader rollout planned for early 2009,” the company says. Media reports also said Coke plans to use reb-A in a new, reduced-calorie version of Glaceau Vitaminwater to be released early next year.

PepsiCo apparently was less hands-on in the R&D of its sweetener, PureVia, with its partner Whole Earth Sweetener/Merisant. Pepsi immediately debuted three flavors of a zero-calorie SoBe Lifewater and plans a March roll-out of a Tropicana orange juice drink called Trop50, containing half the calories and sugar of orange juice. PepsiCo in August launched an enhanced SoBe water drink with the sweetener in Peru, where stevia is approved for use in foods and drinks. It says the drink has been selling well there. While it made no formal announcement, Dr Pepper Snapple Group was “pleased with the [FDA’s] decision,” according to Jim Trebilcock, a DPSG marketing executive, according to a Reuters news report. He said the new bottling company will announce its “first stevia-sweetened products in the coming weeks.

Everyone’s excited about stevia and the reb-A extracts because they have no calories, allegedly have no bitter aftertaste and, most importantly, appear to be natural, having come from a plant extract.
Despite all this excitement, stevia-sweetened products are old news to at least two American beverage companies. Reed’s Inc. earlier this year introduced four diet sodas under its Virgil’s line, a natural brand. How did the company do it? The traditional-shaped soda bottles were labeled “dietary supplements.

Stevia is technically available and FDA approved in the U.S. for use as a dietary supplement. Yet widespread consumer demand for an all-natural alternative to artificial sweeteners persists,” founder and CEO Chris Reed told us back in October. Sales have been good, he said. Zevia LLC has been making stevia-sweetened sodas, also labeled as dietary supplements, since 2007. “We don’t care” about all the excitement over reb-A’s GRAS status – at least that’s what Ian Eisenberg, principal and director at Zevia told us in October at Natural Products Expo East. “We’re happy with it as a dietary supplement, and our customers are happy. So what’s the big deal?
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