Drinks group spies stevia functional potential

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Stevia Fda

A US-based manufacturer of functional beverages is turning to the stevia-derived sweetener rebiana as part of a launch for what it claims are short-served, natural protein beverages.

Protica says that despite the cost ‘hurdle’ in using the plant-derived sweetener, also known as Reb A, the launch of the Proasis brand will benefit from being sold as an all-natural functional drinks product.

The decision comes as a growing number of beverage companies from mainstream multinationals to more segment specific producers of functional goods look to introduce stevia-based products like Reb A in some of their brands.

Natural search

Protica president Jim Duffy stated that since the group had first launched its Profect range of protein shot drinks in 2001, an all-natural variety has been sought, though impossible to formulate as wanted.

Speaking to BeverageDaily.com, Duffy claimed that previous natural sweeteners had failed to match the taste profiles of more synthetic rivals like acesulfame potassium, aspartame and sucralose.

“However, the grade of the material is very important, some stevia sources are not palatable,”​ he stated.

Duffy added that aside from taste considerations, rebiana has not caused any major formulation headaches for the quality of its functional products.

Production considerations were also important, but stevia is a very stable material,”​ he said.

Profect and Proasis are both sold as 2.9 fluid ounce shots, which the company claim provide a protein complex designed to increase absorption of key nutrients.

Rebiana rush

The seeming rush of product launches making use of Reb A follows an announcement by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the ingredient’s use in product formulation.

The risk assessor last month said that it had issued no objection letters for rebiana, (Reb A) at 95 percent purity or above, to have GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status for use in food and drink. Stevia has not yet been approved by the EU to be added to final products.

Despite some controversy over the decision, with some consumers groups claming it remains too early to approve stevia-based ingredients for use in juices and carbonated drinks, Coca-Cola and PespsiCo have announced plans to use the sweetener.

Cargill, which partnered with Coca-Cola to launch its Reb A brand Truvia, submitted evidence to the FDA to show that rebiana is safe for use in the food supply, as did PepsiCo’s partner Merisant Company for its PureVia Reb A brand.

While not commenting on its own sweetener cooperation for the launch, Duffy claimed that the FDA approval had allowed the group to enter the all-natural Proasis onto the US market.

However, not everyone in the US has been as welcoming in regards to the emergence of stevia-derived sweeteners in final products.

Approval concerns

In response to the FDA outcome in December, Michael Jacobson, executive director at advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), called for a rethink.

“It is far too soon to allow this substance in the diet sodas and juice drinks consumed by millions of people,” he stated at the time.“If president-elect (Barack) Obama's transition team is making a list of last-minute Bush Administration regulatory actions that warrant reversal on January 20, this needs to be added to the list.”

The CSPI highlighted a review of safety data that was carried out by toxicologists at the University of California on behalf of the CSPI, which was made public this summer.

It said that carcinogenicity studies have not found stevioside (which differs slightly from rebiana) to be carcinogenic in rats but further studies on rebiana, including a study on mice, are needed.

The study concluded that the FDA should require carcinogenicity and toxicology studies both in rats and mice before accepting rebaudioside A as GRAS or approving it as a food additive.

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