- Cargill developed a botanical extract ingredient called ClearFlo that could provide a sugar-like sweetness profile to stevia, Food Navigator reported. Cargill, which debuted the new ingredient at the SupplySide West trade show, said ClearFlo will be available early next year.
- When the ingredient is combined with Cargill's EverSweet stevia sweetener, ClearFlo results in a solution that is up to 30% stevia. This allows for high-concentration formulations, Andrew Ohmes, Cargill's global stevia business leader, told Food Navigator.
- Ohmes said the company would release what botanical extract was used in 2020, and that it was generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Cargill stands to gain market share from this new ingredient if it can deliver what it promised. Stevia has been widely criticized for having a bitter aftertaste, and some companies have switched to other natural sweeteners for that reason. But if Cargill has found a way to overcome this obstacle to arrive at a more sugar-like taste, soda makers and other food and drink manufacturers might be interested in giving it a try. Ohmes told Food Navigator that Cargill would focus first on incorporating the Eversweet/ClearFlo combination into soft drink concentrates and energy drinks before considering baked good and confectionary products.
This ingredient could be good news for the food and beverage industry since companies have been searching for alternatives as consumers lose interest in sugar. About 71% of consumers read the sugar content on labels and 46% want to reduce sugar consumption, according to recent surveys. Food and beverage companies have invested in exploring more alternatives, and stevia has been a prominent substitute despite some of its challenges.
Among stevia's assets is that it contains no calories, so consumers trying to avoid sugar would likely favor products containing a naturally derived replacement — particularly one that tastes like the real thing. Cargill's latest study on global food and beverage trends said sugar is the No. 1 most avoided ingredient in food products. And because stevia is 30 to 40 times sweeter than sugar, food and beverage makers can use less of it, which could potentially cut costs.
After an initially bumpy start, stevia has been gradually appearing in more products as time goes on. According to the Mintel Global New Products Database, newly introduced foods and beverages using stevia sweeteners grew by 31% in 2018, up 11% from the previous year. This is meaningful growth from the past when stevia-based sweeteners appeared in just 10% of product launches in 2011, with aspartame being used in 36% that year. In 2018, stevia was in 29% of all products with high-intensity sweeteners, while aspartame was in 20%.
Cargill has spent a lot of time and effort to enhance the taste of stevia formulations to more closely approximate sugar. Its EverSweet product is a high-intensity sweetener using fermented steviol glycosides Reb D and Reb M, which have a more sugar-like taste profile. It's possible this new ClearFlo ingredient will be able to further move stevia into even more mainstream use. But Cargill isn't alone in this work. Other manufacturers also have worked to improve the taste of stevia extracts.
Once ClearFlo is commercially available early next year, it could achieve staying power in the marketplace given the well-known Cargill brand name. And if stevia ingredients have evolved enough to more closely approximate sugar, it could mean this new one will be showing up on product labels in the next few years.