The Food and Drug Administration in December cleared the way for Coca-Cola and Pepsi to use a new zero-calorie sweetener. Both Pepsi's PureVia and Coke's Truvia use rebiana, an extract from the stevia plant.
NutraSweet President Bill DeFer said the stevia products aren't direct competition for its existing sweeteners. The company is working on its own product, he said, which is currently referred to as NutraSweet Natural with Stevia.
"We're not expecting a lot of impact on our business. The global demand for aspartame continues to increase," Mr. DeFer said.
Stevia, the generic name for a plant that is native to Peru, is cultivated and the family of natural compounds is extracted from plants that are high in stevia, he explained.
"Most of the stevia plants today are cultivated in Asia," Mr. DeFer said.
The product has been used previously in low volumes in packets as sweetener for food items such as coffee.
Cargill has been marketing Truvia packets in stores since May.
"We have spent more than two years validating the consumer demand for this new sweetener," Marcelo Montero, the president of Cargill Health & Nutrition, said in a statement.
The sweetener is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It starts with the stevia plant, a shrub native to Paraguay. The leaves are harvested and dried, then placed in fresh water in a process similar to that of making tea.
NutraSweet also sells packets of sweeteners for consumers, but most of its products are sold as ingredients to food and beverage companies, which add them to their own food products.
When NutraSweet launches its new Stevia product, it will be sold to the food service industry.
The sweetener is being developed at NutraSweet's laboratory in Chicago.
Pepsi announced that it plans to use the sweetener initially in three new SoBe Lifewater flavors. Coke will introduce a line of Sprite with stevia.
Stevia does have its pros and cons, Mr. DeFer said.
"Stevia has its own unique taste profile. Its sweetness has a slow onset. Most people find that it has a bit of a licorice taste," he said.
As a result, stevia will probably be used in blends with other sweeteners. Though it has been used for a while internationally, the market share is still relatively small because of the taste. It's also expensive, Mr. DeFer said.
Reach LaTina Emerson at (706) 823-3227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT IS STEVIA?
Stevia is a new sweetener emerging in the U.S. food industry. The stevia plant, which is native to Peru, is cultivated and the natural compounds are extracted from plant leaves.
A brand called Truvia, which is manufactured by Cargill, is being sold in Publix and Kroger. Truvia is a "natural, zero calorie sweetener made with rebiana, the best tasting part of the stevia plant," according to the product's official Web site.