Stevia: the new battleground for Coke and Pepsi

Posted by Isobel Drake on 4th August 2008


The use of the stevia plant to create natural sugar substitutes threatens to become the new battleground for the traditional Coke and Pepsi rivalry to play out.

Coca-Cola has teamed with Cargill to create their own natural sweetener from the plant, while PepsiCo has joined with Whole Earth Sweetener to create PureVia.

Pepsi’s version, derived from stevia, has no calories and provides a natural sweetener for food and drink products. PepsiCo reports that PureVia will debut in a new nutritionally enhanced PepsiCo beverage called “SoBe Life,” to be launched in Latin America, starting with Peru. PureVia tabletop sweetener will launch in the United States this Autumn (Australian Spring) before expanding into drink and food products around the world.

PureVia, which will be available initially in three SoBe Life flavour blends: Tropical Pomegranate, Strawberry-Kiwi and Orange-Tangerine, has not yet been granted approval from the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) – hence the initial launch into South America.

“Consumers have always been looking for a beverage that is natural, tastes great and has no calories, and SoBe Life with PureVia answers the call,” claimed Massimo d’Amore, CEO of PepsiCo Americas Beverages. “This will have great appeal to health-conscious people who are looking for hydration and natural ingredients.”

In May, Whole Earth Sweetener Company, a subsidiary of Merisant Company (the owners of the Equal brand) focused solely on natural products, submitted a notification and supporting scientific data to the FDA that the ingredient is generally recognized as safe for use in beverages, foods and tabletop sweeteners. “The introduction of PureVia represents the culmination of four years of research and development to bring this revolutionary new product to market and satisfy consumer demand for great tasting, all-natural, zero-calorie sweeteners,” reported Paul Block, chief executive officer of Merisant and Whole Earth Sweetener Company. “What’s unique about PureVia is that we’ve identified a way to extract the purest part of the stevia leaf to reveal the cleanest and most consistent taste.”

“This is a potential game-changer among zero-calorie sweeteners,” added Lou Imbrogno, PepsiCo’s senior vice president of Pepsi Worldwide Technical Operations. “PureVia is all natural. It’s extracted from the stevia plant leaf and not synthetically produced. We’ve got ample supply and we look forward to bringing PureVia to consumers around the world.”

As a tabletop sweetener, all-natural, zero-calorie PureVia can be used in place of sugar in both hot and cold beverages, as well as sprinkled on cereal and fruit, according to the two companies.

The active sweetener in PureVia is Reb A, an all-natural, purified component of the South American stevia plant – long known for its extraordinary sweetness. Stevia is approximately between 30 and 400 times as sweet as sugar, and Reb A is considered the sweetest, purest part of the stevia leaf. Other forms of stevia are currently sold in the United States as dietary supplements and have been used for years by consumers in countries such as Brazil, Japan and South Korea.

The new sweeteners could have a major impact on the food and beverage industry in the years ahead. It should, however, be noted that the stevia plant has been renowned for a liquorice-like aftertaste and, despite the purification of the plant to make it more suitable to discerning consumers, it may still leave a slight aftertaste. Pepsi has admitted that it was difficult to find the right beverages to suit the sweetener, with citrus-flavours the most compatible.

As for a cola using such a sweetener? Mr Imbrogno told the Wall Street Journal that it would be unlikely at this stage due to the attachment people have developed to the taste of Pepsi over the years, but it hasn’t been ruled out.

PepsiCo intends to market PureVia in beverages and foods and Whole Earth Sweetener Company will promote the brand as a tabletop sweetener.

Coca-Cola, meanwhile, are also awaiting final approval from the FDA and reports suggest a soft drink with their sweetener (TRUVIA) will be released before the end of the year.

Cargill launched the TRUVIA tabletop sweetener last month.