Stevia supplier PureCircle today (11 September) insisted it was still confident about the future of the natural sweetener despite its losses widening in the last 12 months.

UK-listed Pure Circle reported a loss after tax of US$23.3m for the year to the end of June, compared to a loss of $18.5m a year before.

The company, which supplies the likes of PepsiCo, Merisant and Danone with the zero-calorie sweetener, said it incurred foreign exchange costs of $2.1m over the year. However, sales fell 15% to $45.4m.

Nevertheless, chairman Paul Selway-Swift said volumes were higher and said recent sales trends gave the company confidence in the potential of the stevia sector.

“FY 2012 was the first year that our sales were not supported by committed take-or-pay contracts. Despite this our high purity sales volumes increased. Further some 85% of sales comprised demand that did not exist three years ago. This augurs well for future sales growth,” Selway-Swift said.

He said PureCircle’s move to slow production of reb A, the extract from the stevia plant used to produce sweeteners, had affected its performance.

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“Our recent results have been impacted by the tough decisions we made in 2011 to slowdown reb A production temporarily to better align inventories to current market demand. Results should improve as the evident growth in market usage of our products starts to translate into higher sales,” he said.

Selway-Swift added it would be 2013 or 2014 before the food and drink sector used stevia on a “mass” scale.

“Our guidance remains that it is likely to be calendar years 2013 or 2014 before mass volume adoption of high purity stevia is evident and the benefits of increased usage starts to be reflected in our results,” he said. “We remain confident of the future of our high-purity stevia business but continue our guidance that this should be seen as a mid to long term opportunity.”

Shares in PureCircle were down 1.7% at 173p at 09:53 BST.