A small Leaf Filled with Sweet Possibilities

Ajay Chandran

Stevia is catching pace across the globe as a Natural Sweetener and is well accepted in current scenario by F&B players globally and consumers due to the growing awareness and demand for plan derived sweeteners. Food Marketing & Technology-India Magazine interviewed the Spokesperson – Ajay Chandran, Senior Director and Head of South Asian Region, PureCircle to know the vision and mission.

Q How long has PureCircle been in India? How has been its journey so far?

PureCircle formally entered India last year with plans to build a robust infrastructure over the next five years. India is one of the last major markets to have approved high purity stevia leaf extract as a sweetener, opening the doors for PureCircle’s investment. The confidence lies in our innovative high purity stevia ingredients, specifically our Sigma series matrix solutions. To revolutionise the Indian F&B sectors, efforts are made to moderate sugar naturally for Indian consumers without compromising with the great taste.

Our commercial journey started with establishment of our first South Asia Office and Lab in Gurgaon earlier this year. The objective of setting up this flagship South Asia office and lab was to help build awareness of stevia amongst the B2B community, educate key stakeholders and help our customers formulate with best tasting ingredients at a compelling commercial proposition to help major brands and companies reduce product development lead times and supported some successful mainstream launches.

We are very excited about the South Asian market as Indian consumers in particular and South Asian consumers in general increasingly understand the importance of calorie reduction done through natural solutions.

Q What is Stevia? Tell us about the origin and evolution.

The herb is grown for its naturally sweet leaves, is the ideal option for natural-origin sweetness and sugar moderation or reduction. The plant originates from South America and in India it is called by many names including Meethi Tulsi (Hindi), Seeni Tulsi (Tamil), Sihi Tulsi (Kannada), Mou Tulsi (Assamese), Madhu Patra (Sanskrit), etc.

PureCircle also has completed pioneering carbon and water footprint and found it is sustainable compared to many natural caloric sweeteners like Beet Sugar and HFCS that it replaces.

The leaf contains naturally sweet molecules called steviol glycosides, which can be upto 400 times sweeter than sugar that can replace about 25% of the calories in a can of soda.

Taste was a challenge which is now possible for deep reduction across matrices. Reb, a glycoside has inherent limitations and the percentage of extractable better tasting glycosides was limited. Over the years, PureCircle has developed several proprietary cultivars to incraese the content of best tasting stevia molecules (Steviol Glycosides) like Reb M and Reb D by 20 times.

Q Tell us a bit about your Stevia related products. What new products are you planning to launch in the market.?

PureCircle identified more than 40 individual molecules, some of them much better and sugar like in taste than Reb A and Stevioside, most commonly sold by many stevia manufacturers.

Reb A and Stevioside have taste limitations especially for great taste in moderate reduction. We have moved our portfolio much beyond traditional stevia sweeteners offered in the form of high purity Reb A molecule. Our portfolio of 23 sweeteners and natural flavors offer much better tasting solutions within current regulatory norms. In addition, we have developed leaf varieties that have 20 times the amount of novel glycosides like Reb M and Reb D, which are scalable.

Years of distilled experience in developing stevia sweetened formulations across 4 continents into our Sigma range of sweeteners, PureCircle knows how to formulate great tasting B2B products for Indian market- Sigma D- for Dairy products like Yogurts, Fermented milks etc.

a) Sigma Traditional Sweets Wet, Sigma Sweets Dry- for traditional sweets that are dry sweets like Soan Papdi and Syrupy desserts like Gulab Jamun etc.

b) Sigma B- for Beverages like Carbonates, Mango ad other flavored juices, Chocolate Milk

c) Sigma S- for tabletop and baking solutions/preparations

Q What is the scope of Stevia in the next five years that proves to revolutionize the sweetener?

Due to its natural and herbal origins, stevia with its no calories has extremely high consumer appeal as a concept. Stevia plant can be grown in many regions and fits the bill for any mass scale sweetener- good taste, economic viability, safety and sustainability.

The choice of plant based stevia as a sweetener for Indian food and beverage came about with its approval in 2015, as food additive in several categories and companies (including major carbonated brands and several tabletop brands) have already responded to the consumer demands by employing it to reduce calories.

Across the globe, PureCircle’s portfolio of innovative stevia sweeteners and flavors has enabled major brands to reformulate full sugar products with this natural, zero-calorie solution to address consumer demands. We feel confident that with PureCircle expertise in all things stevia and our customers interest in reducing calories.

Q How safe is Stevia in relation to health and wellness of the people?

The ingredient form approved for food and beverage by regulatory authorities, contains 95% or more of selected steviol glycosides. The safety of highly purified stevia extracts is supported by more than 200 rigorous scienti?c research and evaluation necessary for an ingredient to be approved for use in foods and beverages today.

All major global regulatory organizations, including the Codex Alimentarius and the Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization’s Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), have determined highly purified stevia extracts to be safe for consumption. Stevia meet JECFA specifications with 95% or more steviol glycoside content is approved as a sweetener in all major markets worldwide, including the United States, the European Union and India.

Q What do you have to say about FSSAI and safety regulations?

PureCircle has approval for the use of stevia-based sweeteners by all major safety and regulatory bodies worldwide including US FDA, EU EFSA, FSSAI etc.

About four years after PureCircle’s engagement with regulatory authorities, a scientific panel on food additives at the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) recommended the use of stevia. The food regulator gave the final go-ahead in November 2015.

New innovations from PureCircle that go beyond Reb A in the form of Sigma Solutions are approved for use as a sweetener and our customers can claim it under “steviol glycosides” or its INS number. Brands that have launched in India have claimed its natural and safety in front of pack too. About 65 countries have approved the use of high-purity stevia leaf extracts with the support of more than 200 rigorous scienti?c research and evaluation necessary for an ingredient to be approved in food and beverages.

Q How can stevia extracts be prepared? Tell us about the processing of stevia?

PureCircle is the only company to combine advanced R&D with full vertical integration from farm to high-quality, great-tasting collaborates with farmers who grow the stevia plants and with food and beverage companies.

Our proprietary non GMO leaf varieties are the very source of our many taste breakthroughs. By perfecting natural, cross-pollination methods, we are able to maximize the potential of the leaf right from the seed and innovate new, distinct varieties of stevia for a greater diversification of stevia solutions.

Leaf is grown in three continents – Paraguay, Latin America, Eastern Africa, China, Europe and in the US, grown under sustainable farming mechanism. Leaves are plucked, dried in the sun, bagged and sent to the world’s largest Extraction plant, steeped in water and the desired glycosides (molecules) are separated. The leaf extract is sent to our state of the art purification plant in Malaysia where we make 22 of our current portfolio of 23 products. PureCircle has been granted more stevia-related Patents (72) than any other company globally.

Our natural flavor portfolio also works in synergy with sweeteners to improve the taste, mouthfeel and calorie profile, and enhance the cost effectiveness, of beverage and food products.

The process is as complex as sugar refining from sugar cane. The stevia glycosides remain unchanged and are similar to what is in the leaf to start off with as confirmed by a recent University of Bonn study. Our optimized, patented extraction process provides unmatched quality and consistency to ensure optimal product taste performance. With the largest stevia extraction and purification facilities in the world, we can deliver the best stevia products on a scale that services global demands.

Q PureCircle has exposures in beverage processing. Which according to you are revenue spinners for the company?

We are the world’s leading supplier of High purity stevia primarily because of our cutting edge innovation, farm to product vertical supply chain integration, high quality and consistency of products and application and marketing support to help brands formulate with stevia. Because of this we supply to all major beverage and food categories and to all leading companies and brands within each. We also work with many small and medium size companies.

Q Throw some light towards the anti-sugar movement. What impact does it have on Indian market?

The growing global concerns about obesity and diabetes have lead to reduce sugar and calories in the products. Stevia as a natural sweetener can play a role in sugar moderation. More than 50% of all stevia launches have been formulated in sugar sweetened products.

India does face some large public health challenges including the second highest (65 million) number of people suffering from type-2 diabetes and the second highest number of obese children in the world after China. By approving high purity stevia extracts in 2015, Indian Govt has offered another sweetener solution to F&B industry and consumers seeking natural no calorie solutions. Our concept to launch support can enable our customers journey of creating great tasting no or low calorie solutions.

Q Can Stevia replace the artificial sugar in the diet? How far is it possible to combine Stevia with other sweeteners?

More and more food and beverage companies are using stevia to help create great tasting food and beverage products with fewer total calories. It can be launched with other natural ingredients and sweeteners like sugar than with artificial non nutritive sweetener. More than 50% of all stevia launches have been formulated in sugar sweetened products. The trend to redefine regular products with lower sugar also enables launches with sugar, the result being major sugar companies in Europe tie up with us to develop and sell stevia- sugar solutions and products.

Stevia goes very well with all kinds of other sweeteners. A quarter or less of launches have had stevia used with artificial sweeteners and in those cases they have indeed been used to create diet or no calorie products. The brands has a p;ositive consumer appeal. Certain countries have wanted to replace one artificial sweetener in a blended mix of few artificial sweeteners because of poor consumer perception of the replaced artificial sweetener.

Q What affect does it have on the diabetic person? Is it fit to use as a sugar substitute for children?

Over 200 global studies have illustrated stevia safety for entire family-for pregnant women and children. Stevia is safe for people with diabetes as it does not contain any calories or carbohydrates and therefore does not affect blood glucose or insulin levels. It has zero glycemic index.

In 2010, the company launched the Global Stevia Institute headed by leading pediatricians, toxicologist’s, nutritionists. The organization provides science-based information about stevia, serving as an educational resource for health professionals, expertise, manufacturers and the general public. It is the leading body of its kind that can speak to the science of stevia in a scientific manner. Customers of PureCircle have the advantage of referring to their research and points of view as they start their journey of formulation.

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