The newly-formulated range will be released as part of Skinny Drinks Group’s tonic collection. The collaboration has seen the replacement of the traditionally-used Reb A stevia extract, which can create flavour limitations, with the Starleaf Reb M stevia extract. By formulating with the new ingredient, the three companies aim to offer the most sugar-like taste available on the market.
All the tonic, without the sugar
“Consumer demand for reduced and zero-sugar beverages has been on the rise for some time, as consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their dietary health and more knowledgeable about ingredients lists,” Vicky Berry, Business Development Manager at Synergy Flavours shares on one of the key drivers influencing the team’s decision to create a zero-sugar tonic.
The duo also recognised that there is regulatory guidance to consider, following the UK Government’s introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, or ‘sugar tax’, in April 2018.
“Manufacturers have a responsibility to offer consumers a reduced or zero-sugar beverage that delivers on flavour, without the unnecessary sugar content,” highlights Berry.
“As gin has become such a popular choice of spirit, and is frequently paired with tonic, the demand was there to create a zero-sugar version that allows consumers to enjoy their beverages without the sugar content,” Berry adds.
Reformulating the new tonic range
“Historically, stevia has been a challenging extract to work with,” reveals Jill Ngo, Sweet Goods Application Manager, Synergy Flavours.
“The max dosage for stevia in soft drinks in Europe of 80ppm as steviol equivalents have in the past made it difficult to formulate a drink with stevia alone,” outlines Ngo. “The sweetness intensity that can be achieved is lower than we, as consumers, are used to,” notes Ngo.
With the Reb M extract from PureCircle by Ingredion and using Synergy’s extracts and flavour solutions, the duo has sought to balance sweetness and flavour delivery, after enjoying a wider scope to experiment with flavour pairings, dosages, and blends.
“We have been working with the stevia leaf for 20 years and have invested millions to understand it better,” says Chris Draper, UK Sales Manager, PureCircle by Ingredion.
Launched over a decade ago, Reb A was the first stevia product to market but when dosed above a certain level, the flavour can be affected, which limits the scope of sugar reduction or removal of artificial sweeteners. PureCircle has discovered more than 60 different glycosides in the leaf, all of which have slightly different properties and can be used to deliver different application results.
Following its findings, PureCircle realised that the best tasting of these glycosides are only present in small proportions, and so decided to breed a new leaf that was higher in those better-tasting molecules, which became Starleaf.
From traditional Reb A to Reb M stevia extract
“Reb M is by far the most ‘sugar-like’ and best-tasting glycoside from the stevia leaf that we have discovered so far,” Draper emphasises. “Starleaf enables an increased proportion of Reb M, which produces none of the taste compromises of Reb A,” adds Draper.
As a result, consumers can opt for zero-sugar options without having to sacrifice the flavours they seek, making healthier choices more accessible and less of a compromise.
In addition to the reformulation of the existing Skinny Drinks’ tonic products, the brand is adding three new flavours to the range: blueberry, orange and strawberry. There is also a brand new range of children’s drinks and adult sodas to accompany the reformulation.
Whilst the challenges of formulating with Reb A and Reb M are largely the same, Esther Ryder, Beverage Category Technologist, PureCircle by Ingredion explains: “The fact that Reb M, and Reb M based blends, have an improved sweetness quality actually makes them easier to develop with.”
Plans following PureCircle’s EFSA approval for its Stevia range
In August 2021, Food Manufacture announced that PureCircle was given a positive safety opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for its bioconversion range of Reb M, Reb D and Reb AM stevia ingredients.
“The EFSA approval is hugely important for us,” says Draper. “Being able to leverage bioconversion technology across our range has multiple benefits; alongside expanding our portfolio with these new bioconverted products, it allows us to offer Bio Reb M, which brings the Reb M glycoside to the market at a lower price point,” details Draper.
Moving forward, Draper explains: “Bio Reb M will become a fundamental part of our toolkit when creating bespoke blends and will make zero-calorie solutions—with sugar-like sweetness—accessible to more categories.”
“It is also important to remember that the EFSA approval covers other glycosides as well as Reb M, and indeed opens up some new solutions at the lower price point, so I think we will see a huge amount of reformulation using this technology in the coming months,” highlights Draper.