Coke stevia supplier PureCircle insists formulating beverages such as Vitaminwater is especially challenging but says hundreds of drinks have been successfully reworked with the zero-calorie sweetener.
Faith Son, VP of marketing and innovation at PureCircle, told BeverageDaily.com that we should address any specific questions regarding Coca-Cola’s approach to the Vitaminwater reformulation to the soda giant.
But the world’s largest stevia supplier did respond to our broad question over whether PureCircle was worried by the strength of the Facebook consumer backlash against Glaceau Vitaminwater with stevia .
Multiple changes to the formula 'especially challenging'
“Product reformulations of any kind are inherently challenging, but especially in cases like Vitaminwater, where there are multiple changes in the formula at once,” Son told this website.
“Recall that there are hundreds of food and beverage product reformulations that don’t involve any stevia at all where brands have opted to return to the old formula. At the same time, there are hundreds of examples of products that have reformulated with stevia at much deeper calorie reductions that taste great and have been very successful,” she added.
More than 2,000 stevia sweetened products were launched worldwide within the last year, she said, a 73% increase from one year ago.
“Some successful mainstream product launches include 45 of Coca Cola’s products in 15 countries on well-known, mainstream brands such as Fanta and Sprite. In addition, we have plenty of consumer research that tells us consumers consider stevia one of the more viable options for reducing sweet calories due to its natural origin and taste profile,” Son added.
PureCircle was proud of its association with reformulation success stories across all major food and beverage categories, she said, and had the firm has learnt that each formulation challenge is unique.
Closing the taste gap on table sugar
“This is why we launched our proprietary Stevia 3.0 approach last year,” Son said.
PureCircle received a GRAS letter from the US FDA for Rebaudioside M (also known as Reb X) in January as part of this drive; Reb M stemmed from a JV with Coke launched in 2012 and is said to taste more like table sugar.
“This approach combines a custom tailored approach together with our portfolio of propriety stevia ingredients and we have been very successful partnering with our customers bringing successful, great tasting products to consumers,” Son said.
Each reformulation challenge is, clearly, unique, and yesterday, we spoke to a beverage formulation expert who said he didn’t think colas, for instance, would face the same taste problems as Vitaminwater “because the carbonation plus bitterness is better tolerated”.
No better plant-based alternatives to stevia - formulation expert
Expanding on these comments, he noted that as aspartame-sweetened colas, Diet Coke for instance, is also a bitter drink but has been extremely successful.
“The issue with aspartame is that it is synthetic and stevia is natural. I haven’t tried Coca-Cola Life, but I bet it tastes as good if not better than Diet Coke. They should have just called it Diet Coke, people probably would not have known the difference.”
“However, I bet Coca-Cola Life has a higher selling point given stevia Reb-A (>98% rebaudioside) is over $100/kg compared to aspartame being less than $10/kg,” he added.
Our expert said he didn’t think there were any better plant-based, zero or low-calorie alternatives to stevia, and ruled out monk fruit for one.
“I think the Reb-A Stevia is the best natural sweetener. If you it combine with sugar alcohols, such as erythritol, xylitol etc., this helps a lot. Also combining with masking agents, vanilla for example, helps mask the bitterness,” he said.
“Lastly, adjusting pH using different acids, such as citric, malic acids to get the right taste combined with salts to balance tartness, alkalinity, flavor, saltiness with bitterness is important.
"But it’s definitely not as easy as just adding the typical 0.15% stevia and 1% sugar alcohol as many perceive is the case in order to just to get the job done,” he added.
Click here to read today's companion piece that rounds up reaction to Glaceau Vitaminwater's backtrack on stevia , from Euromonitor International, Beverage Business Insights, and Zevia CEO Paddy Spence.