A-OK for Reb-A

The FDA put it’s long-awaited stamp of approval on rebaudioside A, a natural zero calorie sweetener derived from the herb stevia, deeming it safe for use in foods and beverages and clearing the way for it to be used and marketed in a variety of products, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Approval letters were faxed late Wednesday afternoon to Cargill Inc. and Merisant Co.'s Whole Earth Sweetener unit, which are teaming up with Coke and Pepsi, respectively. The FDA sent letters stating that it has no objections to their separate claims that rebaudioside A, a highly purified derivative of stevia, poses no health threat when used in foods and beverages. Both companies filed notices with the agency in May claiming the sweetener should be generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Both Cargill and Merisant already sell tabletop versions.

Being first to market has led to a rush of new product plans. Coca-Cola will introduce a reduced-calorie version of Sprite, called Sprite Green, and some Odwalla juice drinks with the new sweetener this month. Pepsi will launch three flavors of a zero-calorie SoBe Lifewater next week, and an orange-juice drink called Trop50, containing half the calories and sugar of orange juice, in March.

Coke and Pepsi hope the sweetener -- called Truvia by Coke and PureVia by Pepsi -- will allow them to create a blockbuster series of new zero- or low-calorie products. PepsiCo Chief Executive Indra Nooyi said earlier this week that she believes the decline in U.S. carbonated soft-drink sales can be halted with new sodas containing a natural, zero-calorie sweetener.