PureCircle partners with tobacco farmers to create stevia supply chain in North America

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Tobacco farmers will benefit from diversifying their crop acreage with a plant that is growing in popularity, PureCircle says.
Tobacco farmers will benefit from diversifying their crop acreage with a plant that is growing in popularity, PureCircle says.

Related tags Stevia North america United states

PureCircle has partnered with tobacco farmers in North Carolina (US) to commercially grow its StarLeaf stevia for the next planting season, to meet growing demand for food and beverage launches using the plant-based sweetener.

StarLeaf is the company’s latest proprietary sweetener with 20 times the amount of sweet-tasting steviol glycosides​ than standard stevia because of its inclusion of Reb M and Reb D, according to Pure Circle.

“StarLeaf stevia will help companies accelerate launches of  reduced and zero-calorie products by making available sweeteners with the most sugar-like taste derived from a plant-based source,”​ the company said.

The percentage of beverage and food products launched containing stevia increased by 13% in Q2 2017 compared to Q2 2016 with carbonated soft drinks containing stevia accounting for 9% of the growth, according to Mintel.

Coca-Cola, for example, is set to launch a 100%-stevia sweetened soda​ early next year using PureCircle stevia.

The partnership with North Carolina tobacco farmers is aimed at “expanding stevia production and establishing a North American stevia supply chain for PureCircle, ” ​James Foxton, VP of agricultural operations at PureCircle, said.

“This program will boost the economic prospects of agriculture in that state by providing a viable alternative to tobacco.”

North American stevia supply chain

PureCircle previously worked with farmers earlier this year to plant and harvest StarLeaf stevia in small trial plots in North Carolina and scaled up production after the pilot proved successful.

“The trials this fall confirmed stevia grows well in soil and climate conditions that were conducive to growing tobacco,”​ the company said.

Like tobacco, stevia grows best in a subtropical environment with adequate rainfall, minimal frost, and a lot of sunshine, according to PureCircle.

With the declining demand for tobacco, stevia cultivation offers tobacco farmers the opportunity to increase returns and productivity of their acreage with a sustainable crop that has increased in popularity, Pure Circle said.

“Stevia has been able to provide an important role in biodiversity because it requires little land and allows farmers to diversify their crops,”​ Jackson Pillow, communications specialist at PureCircle, told BeverageDaily.

“Our goal is to expand dramatically to major commercial production of stevia for next planting season.”

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