Beverages No Longer Equal Empty Calories
Shoring up the perceived beverage weak spot in the modern diet has been the objective of many processors and ingredient providers. As a result, much of what we see on the shelves has taken on a new look, feel and taste.
By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor | 03/07/2011
Stevia's slow progress
The 800-lb. gorilla in the room with beverage providers is still the 800-lb. gorilla: He used to be a 400 lb. gorilla. In other words, calories — specifically from sweeteners — matter. Consumers want natural ingredients and functional ingredients, but they want them in beverages that won't break the calorie bank. Yet low- and zero-calories ingredients can taste funny.
Stevia burst on the scene with FDA approval 2 ½ years ago as a natural, plant-derived, non-nutritive sweetener with centuries of safe usage in other countries. With Coca-Cola as a co-applicant with Cargill on one FDA petition and PepsiCo teamed with Merisant's Whole Earth Sweetener on the other, it looked like stevia would quickly supplant all other sweeteners in beverages. Instead, its progress has been slow.
"Although stevia penetration in the beverage category has met expectations thus far, there is still a long way to go to reach the full potential of the sweetener," says Sidd Purkayastha, vice president of global technical development & support for PureCircle
, one of the world's largest suppliers of stevia, with offices in Oak Brook, Ill. "Any new sweetener takes considerable time to get to the market position (sucralose and aspartame as example). Stevia has had a much better category penetration than sucralose had in its early age. To use a baseball analogy, we are in the first or second inning of the game."
Interest in stevia – and concerns about obesity – are not limited to the U.S. GLG Life Tech Corp.
(www.glglifetech.com), essentially a Chinese company but headquartered in Vancouver, is another world leader in stevia production and marketing. In addition to pursuing North American customers, the company established a joint venture called ANOC in China that will make its own natural and zero-calorie food and beverage products using stevia extracts.
The natural sweetener now has several variants, as well as a cottage industry of flavor enhancers meant to deal with its sometimes bitter off-notes.
"One of the most requested PureCircle products is a new exclusive stevia byproduct, SG95," says Brent Laffey, global product manager for Premium Ingredients. PureCircle turned over the ingredient's U.S. marketing last September to Premium Ingredients. "There are still many challenges involving flavor development with stevia, but we're finding that specifically with PureCircle SG95, we can replace up to 50 percent of the sugar in a formula without noticeable detection."
Blue California also produces a highly purified stevia sweetener under the name Good&Sweet. "It's the highest purity reb-A in the market," claims Cecilia McCollum.
While other leading stevia sweeteners contain 95 and 97 percent of the key rebaudioside-A derivative of the stevia plant, Good&Sweet can be sourced as high as 99 percent.
"Promising excellent taste with a new sweetener and not delivering on that promise proved to be a costly mistake for a few major companies in 2009," McCollum reflects. "Consumer rejection of these products affected consumer acceptance of stevia as an excellent natural sweetener."
McCollum also hints that Blue California is developing natural sweeteners from other "all-natural, edible sources, and will announce important information about these new natural sweeteners soon."