PureCircle will introduce ice cream products sweetened with stevia at the end of the month. They will first be available from company ice cream trucks around Chicago and then offered to restaurants, ice cream parlors, hotels and other foodservice outlets. PureCircle said in a release it will also offer its stevia-based ingredient blends to ice cream makers who sell at retail and in foodservice.
The ice cream will initially come in four flavors — vanilla, chocolate, coffee and salted caramel. There will also be a vegan fruit-flavored dessert. The new products will be available in 5.3-ounce mini-cups and pints, PureCircle said.
The Chicago-based ingredients company is using next-generation stevia sweeteners in the new ice cream. The company says these have a clean, sugar-like taste and no calories, making them suitable for use by food and beverage companies looking to limit sugar and calories in products.
This could be a smart move on PureCircle's part. If the new ice cream is popular, it will show the public a tangible way stevia could work well as a sugar substitute — and if their claims hold up, without the bitter aftertaste some have noted.
PureCircle, which produces and markets a range of stevia products, has developed new variants of the plant-based sweetener. The company said its latest ingredients — using more Reb D and Reb M — have taste profiles more like sugar and work better as food and beverage ingredients than those made from Reb A, which debuted in the industry in 2008.
PureCircle founder and CEO Maga Malsagov said in the release the company has worked hard to develop and commercialize its next-generation stevia leaf sweeteners, and that putting its name on the new ice cream products will "demonstrate our confidence in their great taste."
Ice cream is a popular strategy this summer to show off what an ingredient company can do. Animal-free dairy company Perfect Day recently did something similar, debuting three ice cream flavors to show off its products made in fermentation tanks.
There's no indication PureCircle intends to branch out from producing and marketing stevia ingredients to making frozen treats. The company has dedicated itself to stevia growth and development since its founding in 2001. It opened a $42-million plant expansion in Malaysia in 2017, which the company said doubled its capacity to extract high-quality and sustainable steviol glycosides.
This gives PureCircle the ability to supply its next-generation sweeteners to industry in the large amounts required — and perhaps more cost-effectively. Stevia has no calories and is naturally 30 to 40 times sweeter than sugar, so food and beverage makers can use less of it.
There's evidence this marketing approach is working. Global product launches containing stevia jumped by 31% in 2018, Mintel reported. Japanese snack maker Calbee Foods uses stevia in its potato chips, and Coca-Cola introduced stevia-sweetened soda in New Zealand last year. Danone's Light & Fit yogurt brand contains both stevia and sugar, and Nestlé recently launched a stevia-sweetened version of its Milo chocolate malt beverage in Australia.
The ice cream launch may also inspire more companies to take advantage of stevia ingredients. After all, the products will show off PureCircle's capabilities to a city where food companies and trendy restaurants set a piece of the culinary agenda for the rest of the country.
The ice cream launch is also helping PureCircle find a new consumer audience. The company is reaching out to diabetes advocacy groups and partnering with the Illinois chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The company said JDRF will have PureCircle ice cream trucks at its events in September and October, and the PureCircle will be the "official dessert sponsor" for the group's One Dream Gala in Chicago at the end of this year.
Given that 9.4% of the U.S. population had diabetes in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and millions more have prediabetes, this is a shrewd marketing move food and beverage companies using stevia might want to emulate.