The race to bring the next alternative sweetener to the U.S. market has created more than a sugar rush this autumn.
With public opinion turning against high-fructose corn syrup and sugar, it's no wonder manufacturers are scrambling for options. Currently, the excitement is directed at the South American herb stevia.
“If I'm a manufacturer, I want to come up with something that's different,” said Roberta Anding, a registered dietitian in Houston, where she works with the Texans football team.
Stevia fits the bill. It's 200 times sweeter than sugar, is all-natural and has no calories. Both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are rolling out products that include the sweetest isolates of the plant.
“The U.S. consumer's palette is becoming more extreme. They want more flavor, more everything,” said Paul Block, chief executive of Merisant and Whole Earth Sweetener Co., which partnered with Pepsi to create stevia-based PureVia. “And that includes sweeteners.”
Coke, which paired up with ingredients giant Cargill, calls its product Truvia.
To date, the Food and Drug Administration classifies stevia as a dietary supplement, after studies in the early 1990s raised safety concerns. Coke and Pepsi have exercised a little-used regulatory option to declare their products safe, based on their own extensive testing. Still, some remain concerned that the intense marketing efforts could mask lingering safety issues.
“The thing that gets forgotten in all of this is that ‘all-natural’ does not mean ‘all-safe,’” said Anding.