- Sweetener manufacturer SweeGen added Bestevia Reb I, a high purity, clean label stevia, to its natural sweetener portfolio, according to a company announcement. This new glycoside is produced from the stevia leaf with a bioconversion technology developed by Conagen.
- The company says this new addition to its sweetener portfolio works well in a variety of applications, including dairy, beverages, nutrition bars, confectionery and savory products.
- Natural sweeteners are continuing to gain popularity among consumers who are seeking less sugar. Stevia remains a popular alternative for many consumers, and this new SweeGen alternative is particularly appealing as its formula allows for manufacturers to clean up their labels and use the term "natural flavoring" rather than "sweetener."
Since SweeGen first began making its stevia sweeteners available commercially in 2017, the company has rapidly expanded its portfolio to keep pace with demand. Not only are many consumers looking to limit sugar intake for health reasons, but updates to the Nutrition Facts panel have brought further attention to the presence of sugar in packaged goods, a spotlight that is spurring manufacturers to look to nature for sweet alternatives.
While there are plenty of options for alternative sweeteners, 66% of consumers prefer to see natural sweeteners rather than artificial options on labels, according to a 2019 FMCG Gurus Global Health and Wellness Report cited by SweeGen. And in the natural sweetener category, stevia is a top competitor. In 2018, the number of new global product launches containing the ingredient jumped by 31% — about triple the growth rate in 2017.
It’s no surprise that natural sweeteners are becoming more popular, but stevia has a leg up on some of the other options. Studies have touted its numerous health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and helping to fight diabetes. However, there are also some drawbacks to the plant-based sweetener, namely its bitter aftertaste and the difficulty of extracting certain isolates that are known for providing cleaner flavor.
SweeGen Global Flavor Application Technology Chief Shari Mahon told Food Dive in an email that the company's new Reb I sweetener imparts a unique sweetness profile that can be blended with others to mimic sweeteners currently in products. The overall profile of the new ingredient has "very little bitterness due to the high purity," she wrote.
These attributes are a welcome addition for manufacturers who are looking to use stevia as a natural alternative, but have struggled with the plant’s distinct aftertaste in formulations.
SweeGen also has a Reb M stevia option, which lacks the bitterness of the more common Reb A. However, this steviol glycoside is difficult to isolate. SweeGen is also currently in a legal battle over the way it processes Reb M, which PureCircle, another major competitor in the sweetener space, said infringes on its patent.
Having a new steviol glycoside in its portfolio that can offer clean taste and is not subject to questions of patent infringement offers SweeGen the opportunity to market this new sweetener without worry that the formulation will have to be changed at a future date.
Plus, its new Reb I can be used to help bring about various levels of sugar reduction in products. Mahon specified that while the ingredient alone can be used to reduce sugar by 30% to 40%, it is better blended with other steviol glycosides to create the best tasting products that can reach zero-sugar-added levels, she said. SweeGen’s Reb M and Reb D options support sugar reduction of 50% across all food and beverage applications.
This gives manufacturers the option to further reduce the overall sugar content in their formulations, allowing for an even cleaner label to be presented to consumers. It also means manufacturers can use less of the ingredient compared to other natural sweetener options, since stevia is naturally 30 to 40 times sweeter than sugar.
In addition to identifying strains of stevia that resonate with customers, SweeGen is also working with manufacturers to help develop products with reduced sugar profiles that reflect local tastes. A spokesperson for SweeGen told Food Ingredients First that hard seltzer is a particularly popular application for its stevia solutions, and its new Reb I can replace up to 3 grams of added sugars per serving.