Cargills Truvia-branded sweetener is on sale in US and will launch in France

Cargill's Truvia-branded sweetener is on sale in US and will launch in France

US food giant Cargill said today (27 September) that it believes there will be demand across the EU for stevia, the natural, low-calorie sweetener awaiting regulatory approval from Brussels.

Cargill, which develops stevia sweeteners for food and drink makers and sells its own branded tabletop sweetener under the Truvia trademark, is eyeing opportunities in the EU for the ingredient.

Zanna McFerson, assistant vice president of Cargill's health and nutrition arm, told just-food that the company has been working on "projects" across the EU ahead of the European Commission clearing the use of stevia, a decision she said she expects in the second half of 2011.

"With pending EU approval, there has been excitement and we have been working with customers across the region. Almost every larger geography has projects in it," McFerson said. "We've looked broadly. We've gone deep on several markets to assess that. We really believe that there's an opportunity across the whole region."

Cargill has teamed up with Coca-Cola Co. in France, a market that has already given approval to the use of stevia. In April, Coca-Cola launched Fanta Still, a low-calorie drink containing Cargill's Truvia rebiana version of stevia. Next year, Cargill plans to launch its own Truvia-branded tabletop sweetener in France.

McFerson was coy about where in the EU Cargill and its customers would look to launch products containing stevia following approval from Brussels, citing the desire to keep customer projects confidential. However, markets like Germany, Italy and Spain are seen as some of the biggest users of low-calorie sweeteners.

The stevia market, though accounting for just 6% of global intense sweetener sales, is showing signs of heating up, not least following US approval of the ingredient in 2008.

While a company the size of Cargill, which generates annual sales across its food business of US$107.9bn, is investing in stevia, the sector is seeing investment from smaller players like Malaysia-based PureCircle.

The company has signed a slew of agreements with sugar processors - including Associated British Foods' British Sugar - in recent weeks - to combine its R&D capability in stevia with its partners' production and distribution network. Last week, PureCircle CFO William Mitchell told just-food that the company had invested US$300m in building a global supply chain.

McFerson said Cargill would continue to use its own food ingredients operations to "complement" its stevia business and added that the US group had no need to form partnerships with other companies. "We have the businesses within Cargill itself so wer don't have the same need for all those alliances," she said. The Cargill executive, however, refused to disclose exactly how much money the company had invested in its stevia business, saying only that "tens of millions of dollars" had been spent.

Nevertheless, McFerson said Cargill could already claim to be market leader in the stevia segment. "I believe that we are that today. The majority of the products out there containing stevia and rebiana are Cargill's and from Cargill's work with its customers. This goes into long-term relationships with the food industry."