We are pleased to share Dr. Richard Kraska’s detailed report on Stevia World Americas. The Atlanta conference attracted over 150 attendees from all over the world. Participants included growers, processors and formulators sprinkled with scientists and consultants of various expertise. This report outlines some of the most important information and insights shared over the 2-day conference.
History & Markets for Stevia Sweeteners
The first morning session was a very interesting introduction filled with knowledgeable speakers like James Kempland of GLG looking back at the history of stevia and Michael Movitz of SPINS looking forward at market potential and consumer attitudes
According to Michael Movitz Consumer surveys show a large interest in stevia sweeteners but not all consumers who are interested have tried stevia sweetened products. So there seems to be quite an untapped market for stevia sweetened products.
Regulatory Status, Quality & Labeling
The first morning session also discussed the current regulatory situation in the US with FDA and quality issues. We learned that the big hurdle with FDA has been cleared with several GRAS notifications receiving no objection letters from FDA for both purified reb A and mixed glycoside products.
However, the FDA is insisting that all marketers submit GRAS notifications and has enlisted the help of customs agents to make sure that no sweetener product for food is successfully imported if the product is not on the FDA GRAS Inventory. In submitting a GRN, the single most important piece of data is the analytical skill with which the notifier demonstrates that the purity of the product is at least 95% steviol glycosides on a dry weight basis. We also learned that FDA is actively monitoring the purity of sweetener samples in the marketplace, demonstrating that FDA intends to enforce the purity requirement.
FDA has been less active with guiding industry on labeling issues. We learned that a number of terms have been uses as common or usual names on ingredient labels without challenge but that FDA is probably monitoring the situation with respect to consumer understanding and accuracy. As products of diversified composition come to market, labeling terms will be more challenging. The term natural has been successfully used in the marketplace and seems to be consistent with less than clear guidance from FDA.
It was noted that approvals will likely soon come in many other countries but the process is not automatic and country-specific procedures need to be followed. There is promise that the regulatory community will accept slightly wider specifications to allow for small quantities of reb D and reb F, which will be helpful for variations in compositions found in certain growing regions and climates.
The analytical data on stevia products are important to demonstrate adequate purity to FDA and consistency of composition to customers. The analytical methods used for stevia are fairly complex and the importance of subtle techniques was discussed by Mitzi Rettinger from Cerriliant Corporation.
Significant Scientific Breakthroughs in Stevia
The afternoon of the first day, the discussion continued on scientific issues, namely product composition and taste. We learned from Wixon’s Mariano Gascon and Justine Lord from Naturex that purified stevia varies in composition depending on plant genetics, growing region, climate, and weather.
There was also information conveyed on sweetness and taste profiles and we learned that chemical composition is important. There are also many alternatives for combinations of stevia sweeteners with flavor enhancers to customize taste profiles. So there is much room for the development of products with varying composition where the taste is tailored to suit particular food products.
In addition, there was a talk by DSM Nutritional Products on some new data indicating that high doses of steviol and steviol glycosides can improve cognitive function in laboratory animals.
Growing Stevia & Manufacturing Stevia Sweeteners
On the second day we learned more about growing and manufacturing processes in the stevia value chain from key growers like Wisdom Natural Brands, Sun Fruits Ltd, and Imperio Guarani SA (Paraguay), refiners like Prodalysa Ltda. (Chile) and Novasep Process (USA) as well as researchers like Prof. Dr. Silvio Claudio da Costa from The State University of Maringa (UEM – Brazil).
There are many regions of the world which can grow stevia. As a perennial plant, an important key to yield is the climate and the number of cuttings that can be made each year. There are also several natural genetic variants of the stevia plant. Identifying an optimum region is challenging because the longer sunlight periods in temperate regions counteract the more consistent weather in tropical areas.
We heard heartwarming stories on how stevia is improving the income of many small farmers in less developed countries. Stevia is competing well for acreage with marijuana— another unexpected benefit of stevia! We learned that the extraction process is very complex and there are many options to obtain high purity glycosides of varying composition.
Why Stevia World Americas was an important conference:
Stevia is certainly big business now—it is estimated that the total worldwide investment is in excess of $1 billion and sure to grow. The meeting was well worth attending. I met many interesting people from all corners of the industry. Many people are still trying to find their niche on how to participate in this growing industry. Attendance was very useful for all that want to participate in stevia’s future.