Beverage Executives: Stevia has Potential as Sweetener, but Needs Some WorkPublished in Beverage on Monday, June 28, 2010
The beverage industry is hoping for big things from stevia, a shrub harvested in Asia and South America.
Derivatives from the plant's leaves are being used to sweeten batches of drinks from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and other companies. Executives say stevia has a lot of potential but needs new formulations, lower prices and regulatory approval overseas to reach its full potential.
Natural, non-caloric sweeteners "definitely hold promise," Gary Fayard, Coca-Cola's chief financial officer, said at a recent Beverage Digest conference in New York. "Particularly as the price of stevia comes down, which we expect it to do."
Coca-Cola uses stevia in Coca-Cola's Sprite Green, Vitaminwater Zero and Powerade Play for kids under age 12. It is also in some Minute Maid teas and Odwalla juices and smoothies. Stevia derivatives appear in a handful of Coca-Cola beverages overseas.
The European Food Safety Authority in April issued a positive opinion on the safety of stevia-based sweeteners, a preliminary step to possible EU-wide approval. But France is the only European nation in which it has been formally cleared for use in drinks.
"Is it an opportunity? Absolutely," said Simon Baldry, managing director of bottler Coca-Cola Enterprises' Great Britain business. "But until it gets formally approved, it’s a little too early to say."
PepsiCo uses stevia derivatives in Trop50, SoBe Lifewater Zero and G2, a Gatorade extension. "We will absolutely explore portfolio expansion of stevia," said Jill Beraud, chief marketing officer of PepsiCo Americas Beverages.
Regulatory approval and cost will both be key for various natural, low-calorie sweeteners, said Victoria de la Huerga, senior vice president of strategic planning at Wild Flavors. The company produces natural flavors and ingredients for beverage and food companies.
Product developers are investigating stevia and other little-known natural sweeteners that can be hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, but also very expensive. The goal, said de la Huerga, is to create a mouth-feel and clean aftertaste that mimics sugar, which is still considered the gold standard in sweeteners.
"We're not there yet" in churning out low-calorie sweeteners that taste like sugar, said de la Huerga. "But the industry is getting better at it."