In part 2 of Robert Jonsson’s detailed report of Stevia World Europe, he highlights the key learning points at the conference, and its implications for the Stevia Industry…
1. Predicting Trends in Stevia: Simon Bentley from LMC gave a historical analysis of the life cycle of aspartame and looked into his crystal ball about what that could mean for how the stevia business could possibly unfold. It was an excellent eye opener and put things into realistic perspective for investors and marketing planners alike. As always, the biggest difficulty with forecasting is to predict the future and we can’t relay on that history repeats itself. Mr. Bentley also drew the attention to the very different market environments these two sweeteners are facing upon entry, which further complicates the assessment. Hence forecasting continues to remain a good deal of secret art. In the US market the current slack by HFCS could prove to be a boon for stevia extract in the all important soft drink segment.
2. The Regulatory Status in Europe: From the European Commission Mr. Klepsch clarified how law and order prevails without short cuts in the European Union and the food industry like other sectors simply has to get used to it. It is finally the complicated democratic decision process between European countries, where any opposing country can slow down the decision process, which is ultimately making predictions virtually impossible. The workload at EFSA adds to the unpredictable political delays. By now stevia is however high priority and it is realistic to expect European approval even before September 2011, which is when entire EU by the latest has to take position to stevia approval again.
3. Stevia’s “Water Paradox”: American stevia pioneer Mr. James A. May demonstrated convincingly what 27 years of total dedication to stevia means. Similarly to the German “Reinheitsgebot”- purity law for beer brewing- he is adamant about using only pure water and nothing else for stevia extraction. As in sweetener business “tasting is believing” the absence of bitterness in his extract is really thought provoking, so maybe the world of stevia is facing a “water paradox” in extraction technology.
4. Developing Standardized Methods to measure Steviol Glycosides: The importance of a standardized and validated method for measuring steviol glycosides cannot be enough emphasized according to Dr. Geuns. Kath. Univ. Leuven. He showed convincingly and in detail how important particularly ‘Good Laboratory Practice’ is for obtaining correct and reproducible results. Validated analytical test methods are necessary for the stevia extract business to be credible and achieve long-term success.
5. Clarifying essential terminology to avoid confusion: Both Dr. Geuns and Dr. Horn (Wild Inc.) emphasized the importance of clarity of terminology to avoid creating confusion when communicating about stevia extract and its components. Hopefully industry and its organizations don’t leave it to the creativity of the boulevard press to enlighten consumers in this respect!
6. Status Update on Stevia Quality Assurance Project: Carl Horn af Rantzien updated the audience on The European Stevia Association project status for a quality assurance label. The objective of this initiative is to protect industry and consumers against substandard and adulterated stevia extracts in an effort to build consumers trust in stevia.
7. Updates on Stevia Cultivation in Latin America: Unlike conventional high-intensity sweeteners, stevia is not manufactured in a chemical plant but comes from a cultivated plant. The historical origins of stevia are in Latin America, but like with so many other food ingredients Asia is nowadays the leading agro industrial source. South Americans however seem determined not to leave it at that and are set to recapture their historical role as source of this natural sweetener in modern times. From Misiones Technological Park in Argentina Mr. Galian gave a taste of what is to be expected, which leaves no doubt about that there are excellent opportunities in stevia in this part of the world for serious investors.
8. Agronomic Innovations for Stevia Cultivation: Since the Indian green revolution of the 1970’s this country continues steadily to make advances in plant breeding technology in general. Ms. Suma Krishnaswami from Sun Fruits Ltd. gave an overview of where stevia technology currently stands in the quest for optimization of glycosides content of stevia leaves in the different climatic zones of India. Having the largest number of diabetics in the world, a second green revolution, -this time based on stevia, would be a welcome relief for many Indians.
9. Innovations in Improving Stevia’s Taste Profile: For most things humans consume through the mouth the purchase decisions are made very strongly based on the taste. It is well known that no high-intensity sweetener fully matches the taste profile of the golden standard sugar, which we have been conditioned to already since childhood.
Stevia is no exception in this case, so flavor masking and sweetness enhancing technologies are vital tools for developing the full market potential of stevia extracts. Dr. Greg Horn, Wild Flavors Inc. gave an overview of the art and science of sweetening with stevia. At Wild they have engineered a whole set of tailored tools for a broad variety of applications and stevia grades. These tools help to master the formulation challenges and obtain a taste result closest possible to sugar without adverse labeling requirements. It enables the utilization of lower cost stevia grades, whilst cutting costs for instance in beverages by as much as half.
Dr. Horn also showed how well stevia fits into the prevailing consumer trend and health situation. Health and nutrition is trendy, and consumers are demanding natural products. Overweight and obesity is a global problem and cardiovascular illness and diabetes is rampant. Mothers are concerned about sugar. Market research clearly indicates that a natural, no calorie sweetener is highly appealing to consumers and they are willing to pay more for healthier foods.
Layn Natural Ingredients (LNI) has taken a very promising approach to the taste optimization of stevia extract and we will certainly see a lot more activity along these lines in the future. As explained by Dr Alan Liao, LNI is pursuing the strategy of identifying other natural ingredients to blend with Rebaudioside A, which are able to neutralize its off-notes. After thoroughly screening a short list of over 20 candidates LNI has come to the conclusion that Luo Han Guo (LHG) extract- and juice powder shows the greatest potential in tuning the taste profile of Rebaudioside A closer to sugar. LNI is marketing their optimized, ready to use blends of Rebaudioside A 97%, LHG mogroside V and LHG juice concentrate powder under the LoviaTM brand. Regulatory permitting, the European market is highly receptive for such natural, health promoting solutions.
10. Stevia’s Strong Presence in Asia: Compared to some other parts of the world, Europe is rather late out with the regulatory approval for the use of stevia. Apart from Latin America where stevia originates, particularly some Asian countries like Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and Thailand have commonly used stevia already for a long time. Japan is the world’s largest consumer of stevia extract, where it has some 40% of the local sweetener market. Asians are far ahead of us on the marketing learning curve and now we have to turn to them for marketing wisdom.
The foremost pioneer in stevia is considered to be Mr. Toyoshige Morita, president of Morita Kagaku Kogoyo Co. Ltd. (MKK), who has been involved with stevia and stevia extract for over 30 years. Steviol glycosides were first commercialized as a sweetener in 1971 by MKK. With their extraordinary know-how they have meanwhile from the common Bertoni variety developed their own optimized stevia- the “Morita” variety.
In Korea the first stevia was grown in 1973 and leaves started to be exported to Japan in 1977. In 1984 regulatory approval was obtained for stevia extract. Over half of the Korean stevia consumption goes into Soju, a native Korean distilled alcoholic (20-40%) beverage, which is sweetened. This is certainly one of the more exotic large volume applications for stevia, but maybe a forthcoming high growth potential opportunity for the European vodka regions?
In Korea, Daepyung is clearly the leading stevia extract supplier and quite a significant player in the world market as well, as explained by Mr. Kevin Park, who is in charge of the overseas sales and business development. Daepyung also offers an enzymatically modified stevia grade.
11. Final Thoughts and Wrap up from Key Players in the Stevia Industry: The conference finished with a panel discussion featuring Dr. Roger Olivier, Nestlé, Dr. Jean-Luc Gelin, Firmenich and Dr. Mel Jackson VP Science at Sweet Green Fields, USA. The discussion circled around the use of stevia in sugar reduction, taste modulation and the environmentally friendly properties and socially responsible alternative which stevia cultivation offers for farmers in many parts of the world.
In short, stevia is the better sweetener alternative, actively contributing to a better world, which the Stevia World Europe conference amply highlighted in Frankfurt on 18 November.