Stevia market needs flavor focus, says Blue California chief
Taste has continued to be an issue for manufacturers wishing to use Reb A – the sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia plant – and flavor firms have been scrambling to introduce ‘stevia solutions’ for blocking bitterness and extending sweetness. But Cecilia McCollum, executive vice president of Blue California, says that a strong focus on purity should quash flavor issues.
She told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “Taste was a real concern for us because we have seen products that have not sold well. When it comes to Reb A, the only reason it exists is because it tastes better than other products from stevia extract…We have an opportunity as an industry to make a real change to give consumers a zero calorie option with great taste that’s also natural.”
Blue California recently became the third company to receive an FDA non-objection letter that its Good & Sweet Reb A brand is GRAS (generally recognized as safe), effectively entering what has until now been a two-horse race run by Cargill and Merisant, which both received FDA GRAS letters of no objection in December 2008.
Cargill has its own brand of Reb A, called Truvia, and has collaborated with Coca-Cola, while Merisant, a subsidiary of the Whole Earth Sweetener Company, has released its PureVia brand and is working with PepsiCo.
Blue California, on the other hand, says it is focusing on introducing the sweetener in food products and expects the first product containing Good & Sweet to appear on grocery shelves in August, although McCollum said she is unable to provide further details before its release.
Blue California self-affirmed its ingredient as GRAS just days before Cargill and Merisant received FDA notification about their ingredients. Major global firms, however, have tended to only accept FDA GRAS as proof of ingredient safety.
“Our interest in the Reb A market was a bit later than Cargill and Merisant, so we were just a little bit behind,” said McCollum. “Confirmation of GRAS is really a plus. We were in a great position in that we were able to learn from the other dossiers that were coming out…We’re talking science here: We all have to learn for everyone.”
She said that for now, Blue California is producing Reb A to meet its customers’ demand, but it could ramp up production at its Jiangsu province, China facility to as much as 100 metric tonnes a month if demand significantly expanded.
In addition, for larger orders, McCollum claims that Good & Sweet has a price “way below that of sugar”, but it is taste that will drive the market forward.
“Any food or beverage that is sweet without the calories makes sense, especially when you are using a natural sweetener…If something is missing – taste, safety, sweetness, cost – it’s not going to work.
“But taste is critical. That’s the reason it exists. Otherwise everyone would be using steviol glycosides.”
This article has been altered since initial publication due to a factual error. Cecilia McCollum is executive vice president of Blue California, rather than president and CEO as previously stated.