Coke, Cargill team on new sweetener

Coca-Cola Co. and Cargill Inc. have teamed up to market a zero-calorie natural sweetener derived from the South American herb stevia.

The Wall Street Journal reports Coca-Cola filed patents last week covering use of the sweetener, which the two are calling Rebiana, in products ranging from vitamins to cereal.

Some of the filings reference the triple crown for sweeteners: it sweetens like sugar, has zero calories and comes from a natural source.

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola apparently will have exclusive rights to develop and sell Rebiana in beverages. Minneapolis-based Cargill may market the sweetener for use in products such as yogurt, cereals, ice cream and candy, and hasn't ruled out selling it for tabletop use, according to the Journal.

Neither Coke nor Cargill would say specifically how much they had spent on developing Rebiana so far, but a Cargill spokeswoman described it as a "significant amount of money."

Serious challenges lie ahead for the product, according to the Journal, including a limited supply of the stevia plant, studies that say it caused liver mutations in rats or infertility in men and the fact that it is not approved in the U.S. or European Union for use as a food additive. But Coke and Cargill say they will market Rebiana in the 12 countries where stevia is approved as an additive, including Japan, Brazil and China, while seeking regulatory approval in the U.S. and the EU. The Journal concluded Rebiana would not be available for at least a year or two.

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