Stevia - the suppliers: from Cargill to PureCircle

By Jonathan Thomas | 30 March 2012

A number of major suppliers have built a significant presence in the stevia sector, with new entrants emerging. Jonathan Thomas looks at the major players in the industry - Cargill and PureCircle - and other companies supplying the intense sweetener.

Cargill

Cargill has helped to pioneer the development of the stevia market via its Truvia brand. This was first developed in partnership with Coca-Cola towards the end of 2007, in response to consumer demand for low-calorie food and drinks. Made from Rebiana, Truvia is described by Cargill as 'blending well with other sweeteners to enhance taste, mouthfeel and sweetness'.

The US agribusiness giant operates a fully traceable supply chain for the Rebiana it uses in Truvia. This involves guaranteeing that a fair price is paid to stevia farmers based on measures such as leaf quality and production costs, while it also places a strong emphasis on food safety and quality. It has also set down environmental benchmarks, such as reducing carbon footprint (with the aim of becoming carbon neutral by 2020) and implementing sustainable agricultural practices. 

According to Cargill, Truvia has a wide range of potential applications throughout the food and beverages industry, although perhaps its greatest success to date has been achieved within the soft drinks market. Truvia has been used by the likes of Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and Hansen, and it has featured in the manufacture of major brands such as Minute Maid, Gatorade, Tropicana, Odwalla, Sprite, Lipton and SoBe. 

Truvia has also made considerable inroads into the market for table-top sweeteners, in the US in particular. In 2010, sales of the brand increased by 79% to $46m, while it has been chiefly responsible for annual growth of around 18% within the category. In 2011, Truvia's share of the US market for table-top sweeteners increased from 8% to over 12%, although it still trails the market leader Splenda by some distance.

At the start of 2011, Cargill entered into a strategic partnership with The Silver Spoon Company (which forms part of Associated British Foods) with the principal aim of bringing Truvia to the UK's table-top sweetener market. Cargill has also entered into distribution partnerships for Truvia with sugar-producing companies in western Europe of late, examples of which include Azucarera Ebro in Spain and Eridania in Italy.

PureCircle

PureCircle claims leadership of the world market for high-purity stevia ingredients supplied to the global food and drinks industry. Its share of the world market for reb A, for example, amounts to nearly 80%. Headquartered in Malaysia and listed in London, the company's stevia is grown throughout South America, Africa, Asia and the US, while its Jiangxi facility in China has an annual capacity approaching 4,000 tonnes of high-purity stevia extracts, and is the world's largest of its kind. 

Pure Circle has been active in developing the global stevia market, having helped to establish and provide support to the Global Stevia Institute in 2010. It has also pioneered Stevia PureCircle, an industry trust mark that it claims serves as a symbol of quality and sustainable sourcing and also educates consumers about the benefits of stevia. 

According to Pure Circle, its reb A is up to 400 times sweeter than sucrose, and is supplied to customers such as PepsiCo and Merisant, which uses the company's stevia for its PureVia brand. Its range also comprises other ingredients based on stevia extracts, examples of which include SG95 (which is described as ideal for partial replacement of calories when blended with sugar) and Pure Circle Alpha, which is described as up to 250 times sweeter than sucrose and is also ideal for reduced-calorie products. The company has over 100 customers within the global food and drinks industry, examples of which include Unilever, Danone and Dean Foods

In recent years, Pure Circle's global footprint has been extended via a series of major partnerships and/or joint ventures. The main examples are listed below:

Natural Sweet Ventures – this North American joint venture was established in partnership with Imperial Sugar in February 2010. 

The Natural Sweetness Company – this joint venture was established in partnership with British Sugar in July 2010. It operates in Western European countries such as the UK, Ireland and Spain, as well as in China and Africa.

Tereos Pure Circle Solutions – this joint venture was established with sugar producer Tereos in September 2010. Based in France, Tereos Pure Circle Solutions was set up to market stevia-based sweeteners in European countries such as Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. 

NP Sweet – this joint venture was established with Nordzucker in March 2011. Based in Denmark, NP Sweet produces stevia extracts and steviasucrose to clients across the more northern and eastern parts of Europe, with production concentrated in Germany and Scandinavia.

However, PureCircle's most recent financial results showed the challenge of operating in a fledgling sector. PureCircle booked a net loss after tax of US$13.1m for the six months to the end of December, compared to $7m a year earlier.

The company's bottom line was hit by one-off costs as PureCircle slowed down production as customers used their existing stocks. Excluding those costs, PureCircle's losses narrowed, albeit slightly, to $6.8m.

Its gross profit almost doubled from $900,000 to $1.7m although gross margins fell due to the less than efficient use of production capacity as customers reduced orders. Sales did increase, rising 11.8% to $15.2m due to natural flavours launched during the period. However, PureCircle said there were "no sales" to its key beverage customers as they used existing stocks.

PureCircle was cautious about the outlook for sales. The company insisted recent EU approval for the ingredient and the "continued growth" in its use "across food and beverage categories" meant it was "confident of the long term future of high purity stevia".

However, it added: "We do not expect to see rapid sales growth until calendar year 2013 and calendar year 2014 when the combination of EU approval, the launches of major stevia sweetened CSDs and the unwinding of beverage global key account inventories take fuller effect."

Others

Stevia extracts are also supplied by the Canadian-based GLG Life Tech. According to the company, it has 'seed to shelf' ownership of its stevia, with operations including seed cultivation, harvesting, extraction, refining and formulation. The company has established numerous worldwide partnerships and supply agreements, having signed a five-year deal in November 2011 to provide International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) with reb C extracts. The previous year saw the company launch BlendSure, described as a sweetener combining specific steviol glycosides such as reb A and pure stevioside. 

GLG has been especially active in China of late, having formed the ANOC joint venture with the local firm CAHFC at the end of 2010. ANOC, of which GLG owns 80%, supplies zero-calorie food and drinks sweetened with stevia extracts to the Chinese market. During the 2011 financial year, the company also established ANOC Stevia Solutions, a stevia formulation business which has since launched Dream Sweetener (a stevia-based sweetener) for use in food and beverage manufacture.

However, 2011 was an up-and-down year for GLG Life Tech. The deal with IFF was a highlight but, elsewhere, it faced lawsuits over allegations that it had failed to disclose certain information under US securities rules, claims the company denies.

GLG Life Tech has also seen sales fall amid problems with the after-taste of its stevia, which led to product launches being delayed. GLG Life Tech's most recent publicly-available results showed that revenue fell 39% in the nine months to the end of September to C$24.4m. It ran up a net loss of C$42.9m.

Another leading provider of stevia extracts is Sunwin International Neutraceuticals. Headquartered in China, the company supplies stevia extracts to customers in the Far East, and has distributed its products in the US since 2006. Sunwin supplies stevia extracts for its OnlySweet table-top sweetener brand, which the company plans to extend into the bakery ingredients sector at some point soon. In 2011, the company entered into partnership with Wild Flavors to develop sweeteners based on its stevia extracts, and this was extended to include Domino Foods (a US supplier of refined sugar) at the end of the year. 

Sectors: Bakery, Cereal, Commodities & ingredients, Confectionery, Dairy, Ice cream

Companies: Cargill, PureCircle, PepsiCo, Associated British Foods, Merisant, Unilever, Danone, Dean Foods, Imperial Sugar, Wild Flavors

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