Changing the sweet conversation


With a mission to encourage healthier diets around the world by supplying natural ingredients, PureCircle is changing the conversation around sweet.

PureCircle is the world’s leading producer of high-purity stevia ingredients for the global food and beverage industry. Aiming to encourage healthier diets around the world by supplying natural ingredients, the company is a driving force behind moving stevia from a niche ingredient to mainstream, global acceptance. Dr Kevin Robinson spoke to Sue Bancroft, Regional VP, PureCircle Europe, Jason Hecker, President, Commercial Division, and Nicky Plumpton, Senior Technical Manager, EMEA, to find out more.

NBR: Much has happened since 2008 when we last spoke: what changes have you seen in the industry and in the company itself?

SB: Since 2008, stevia product launches in the food and beverage (F&B) industry have grown by 606%. It’s fair to say that naturally sourced, zero calorie stevia has truly become a mainstream sweetening solution. The adoption of the plant-based sweetener by household brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Tropicana and Heinz, to name a few, simply confirms what we already knew in 2008 — that stevia has the potential to penetrate the overall sweetener market very broadly, for the long-term, fulfilling consumer demand for naturally healthier products.

In 2012, the European Union accounted for 50% of the world’s stevia launches, including more than 1000 products in a wide typology of segments, such as tea, soft drinks, juices, yoghurt, soy milk, bakery goods, cereals, salad dressings, confectionery and, of course, as a table sweetener. Since then, enjoying a positive image linked to its naturality, the recognition rate of stevia continues to grow. Europe continues to show strong growth in consumer awareness, across all its main markets, including the UK where high profile launches such as Coca-Cola Life or Heinz Ketchup have been significant contributors.

JH: Established in 2001, PureCircle has invested approximately 300 million in its technologies and continues to lead the naturally sourced sweetener industry. The company is considered to be the world-leading producer of high-purity stevia ingredients for the global food and beverage industry. It’s our mission to scale stevia as the next natural mainstream sustainable sweetener. To do so, we have deeply invested in all aspects of stevia: from farming, extraction and purification to R&D, innovation, application support, consumer communication and advocacy.

NBR: Can you tell us a little more about Stevia 3.0 and how it can help formulators to improve their products?

SB: PureCircle is leading the stevia industry into the next generation with Stevia 3.0. We have developed a proprietary portfolio of great-tasting, high-purity stevia sweeteners and flavours, including next generation innovations such as PureCircle Alpha, SG95 and a range of PureCircle flavours. In addition, we’re now introducing a range of PureCircle matrix-led solutions, with a new proprietary dairy blend called Sigma-D.

This truly innovative solution improves upon Reb A’s capabilities in certain categories and formulations by combining innovative, proprietary ingredients within our stevia portfolio to achieve superior taste and deeper calorie and sugar reductions.

With our expertise and proprietary blends, stevia provides unique calorie reduction solutions for the food and beverage industry

The company has also developed the PureCircle University, which provides work sessions with hands-on training and formulation work for our customers. Product development teams have the opportunity to work with us and partner with our expert technical team. The PureCircle University is designed to provide a global overview of the development of stevia, including marketing and communication insights, in-depth knowledge about working with stevia, specific product awareness, and in-person support to help our customers fully take advantage of stevia 3.0 formulation opportunities for new product launches and reformulations.

NBR: Stevia appeared to go in and out of favour with both formulators and end-users; why do you think that is and is it still 'the Holy Grail of the sweetener market'? Can you really move stevia from niche to mainstream global acceptance?

NP: As taste is critical to consumers, and stevia is not a singular ingredient, formulating can bring its challenges. For example, stevia doesn’t have a linear dose response curve like sugar. We advise formulators to start with low quantities and gradually build up the amount of stevia to control attributes such as sweetness linger, help to control costs and optimize the sweetness profile.

With our expertise and proprietary blends, stevia provides unique calorie reduction solutions for the food and beverage industry. Our work with Stevia 3.0 will help manufacturers to achieve the best tasting formulations with their stevia launches.

NBR: With obesity still on the rise, is stevia the solution?

SB: Apart from a desire from consumers to find more natural products, part of stevia’s growth has come about because of concerns about obesity, which are now directly linked to sugar by many leading organizations, and diabetes. WHO predicts there will be about 2.3 billion overweight adults in the world by 2015, and 700 million of them will be obese. The obesity problem is global, not specific to the US or Europe; India, China and Brazil are catching up very quickly, for example.

Stevia is part of a catalogue of solutions that all have a place in managing daily caloric intake, and stevia’s natural origin is very much in tune with consumer demand for more naturally sourced products.

NBR: How can PureCircle guarantee the quality and quantity of product to meet the needs of food and beverage companies worldwide?

SB: PureCircle is unique in its ability to reliably produce purified stevia at high quality, in the right quantity, and within the tight product specifications required by food and beverage companies worldwide. From farm to gate, we offer a fully integrated supply chain and, as such, we’re able to control all aspects of production, from leaf to finished stevia ingredient, resulting in improved sustainability and the best tasting stevia solutions for food and beverage manufacturers.

Stevia is part of a catalogue of solutions that all have a place in managing daily caloric intake, and stevia’s natural origin is very much in tune with consumer demand for more naturally sourced products

Our innovation and stevia expertise begins with the stevia leaf, supporting the development of a diverse and sustainable global supply through proprietary research initiatives focused on increasing the stevia plant yield through natural yet selective breeding (non-GMO), improved plant propagation techniques and plantation practices. We work directly with more than 25,000 local farmers in 16 countries across four continents to grow high-yield plant varieties. By providing agricultural education and helping farmers with technical advances and micro-financing assistance, we support a diverse and sustainable stevia leaf supply.

The company produces purified stevia leaf extracts that meet the highest quality standards for safety. Advanced techniques purify stevia’s sweet molecules, the steviol glycosides, and support the consistent and scalable production of great tasting stevia ingredients.

NBR: How important is education — for both the industry and consumers — to spread the word about stevia and the overall health message about sugar replacers?

SB: Although it has been in use for centuries in various guises, such as raw leaves in South America and a crude extract in Asia, high purity stevia is still a fairly new ingredient in food and beverages; as such, it is extremely important to inform and educate consumers and manufacturers alike on the proven safety and wider health benefits of stevia as part of an everyday diet.

Through the naturally sweet taste that stevia delivers, its synergistic effect with sugar and its mid-calorie positioning, it is understood by consumers as being more of an everyday choice for the whole family rather than zero calorie options, which are seen as straight diet products. And through the development and funding of the Global Stevia Institute, PureCircle is supporting the factual and scientific education of stevia within the industry and to the consumer.

NBR: With CSR now a prime concern for many companies, could you comment on your 2020 sustainability goals?

SB: Our vertically integrated value chain allows the company to accurately measure carbon emissions and water consumption, beginning from the initial stages of farming, through extraction and purification, to PureCircle high-purity stevia ingredients. The value chain also enables PureCircle to provide our customers with a level of transparency and accountability across all sourcing regions that is unmatched by any other stevia manufacturer.

In 2012, PureCircle completed the stevia industry’s first-ever published farm to sweetener carbon and water footprint, closely partnering with our customers to translate these benefits into impacts towards their own sustainability targets. Goals for 2020 have been set; they mark a significant commitment to making a positive impact on the food and beverage industry’s environmental footprint and helping to tackle the global obesity challenge.

January 2015 saw the release of our sustainability report, an update on PureCircle’s existing sustainability goals that illustrates the significant strides that the company has made in reaching these goals. It is the first comprehensive sustainability report in the stevia industry and, as such, demonstrates the significant investment and focus of PureCircle in this domain — once again, leading the stevia industry.