- PepsiCo is looking to patent a technique of producing the less bitter and more sugary-tasting steviol glycoside Reb M through an enzymatic method that delivers "higher purity at a lower cost,” according to Food Navigator.
- Companies are increasingly looking for efficient ways to isolate and extract better-tasting steviol glycosides Reb M and Reb D at a commercial scale. Different approaches, according to Food Navigator, include breeding plants with more of the glycosides, new extraction techniques, using genetically engineered microbes to convert sugar into glycosides, and using enzymes to transfer glucose molecules from starches to steviol glycosides extracted from leaves.
- In its U.S. patent application filed in 2014 and published on July 27, PepsiCo stated that the method it seeks to patent improves purity and conversion rate through its control of solutions, temperatures and pH, making it suitable for industrialized production.
Stevia is getting more popular as consumers' distrust of sugar,and interest in natural alternatives grows. According to Grand View Research, the global stevia market is rapidly expanding, with an estimated size of $337.7 million in 2015. With a projected growth rate of nearly 6% annually, the global stevia market could reach $556.7 million by 2024.
The sweetener has become a popular sugar alternative because it is natural. Consumers generally have a more positive view of stevia than artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin. In fact, the Global Stevia Institute found that half of U.S. parents said they would buy beverages for kids’ consumption that are sweetened with stevia.
Manufacturers have been quick to develop different stevia-based products to satisfy the sweet tooths of consumers turning away from sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Almost 35% of total stevia volume in 2015 went toward beverages. According to data from Innova Market Insights, 6% of new soda launches last year used stevia as an ingredient.
However, soft drink companies have found themselves battling with stevia's aftertaste when working on new formulations. This is why PepsiCo is keen on Reb M — which is less bitter and more sugary-tasting than other steviol glycosides.
PepsiCo has been revamping its product portfolio to be healthier in the eyes of the consumer for some time. Last year, the company pledged that at least two-thirds of its global beverage volume will come from drinks that have 100 calories or fewer from added sugar per 12-ounce serving by 2025. These reformulations can be made possible by replacing sugar and corn syrup with zero-calorie stevia.
A company spokesperson told Food Dive that low- and no-calorie beverages now comprise nearly half of PepsiCo’s sales volume, up from 24% two decades ago. A big contributor is the increased use of stevia as a key sweetener in products such as Pepsi True and Tropicana’s Trop 50, and newcomers IZZE Fusions and Lemon Lemon.
The outlook for stevia as a natural alternative to sugar certainly looks promising — until the next big natural sweetener makes meaningful inroads, that is. Ingredient and food manufacturers continue to explore a host of other substances — monkfruit, date paste and sweet potatoes among them. One of these ingredients could turn out to be the next natural sweetener du jour, disrupting stevia’s position in the marketplace.