Zero-calorie, natural sweetener
Stevia is a widely approved natural sweetener derived from the leafy green plant Stevia rebaudiana. Stevia is rapidly gaining market traction because it is a natural, zero-calorie food and beverage sweetener that is suitable for the whole family including diabetics. Currently, only farm-derived Stevia is available. The Stevia plant is widely grown around the world today.
The Global sweetener market
The value of the global sweetener market (excluding sugar) is currently estimated at USD 4 billion. Within this market, Stevia-based sweeteners are the fastest-growing segment, with demand driven in part because Stevia extracts have 200-300 times the sweetness of sugar, but also because of increasing consumer demand for zero-calorie health, wellness and performance products. Extracts from Stevia’s sweet leaves are used as a zero-calorie sweetener in a wide variety of beverages including fruit juices and carbonated drinks, as well as in dairy products and tabletop sweeteners. In December 2011, the European Commission authorised the use of steviol glycosides in food and beverages. After the earlier clearance by regulators in the US and many other regions of the world, this marks a major breakthrough in the acceptance of Stevia as a sugar substitute.
Evolva’s Value Proposition
Like most things in nature, the science behind Stevia’s taste and potency is complex. The sweetness of the Stevia plant is due to the production of sweet constituents in its leaves. These constituents, also known as steviol glycosides, are up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar—without any calories. There are at least ten known steviol glycosides in the Stevia leaf with Stevioside and Rebaudioside A being the most prevalent.
Evolva has succeeded in making the key individual components of the sweetener Stevia via fermentation in yeast, using low-cost plant sugars as starting material. The availability of pure, fermentation-derived Stevia components has several key advantages for food and beverage manufacturers.
First, it bypasses the complex logistics associated with the traditional cultivation, processing and refining of Stevia plants. The end result is a new supply of Stevia that is more reliable and scalable, all at a lower cost — and this should give Evolva the ability to offer its Stevia product at a highly competitive price.
Secondly, it allows pure Stevia sweetness components to be produced. Several of the most attractive Stevia components are present at very low concentrations in the plant and are very hard to extract. Fermentation allows the production of the individual components in any required volume – making entirely new blends possible. This opens up the possibility for food and drinks manufacturers to fine-tune their products to local tastes.
Based on this set of advantages, pure fermentation-derived Stevia components could potentially accelerate adoption of Stevia and significantly expand the market for this sweetener.
In 2009, Evolva entered an agreement with Abunda regarding the discovery and development of food ingredients, with the agreement being expanded in 2010. One part of this collaboration was focused on producing the key constituents of stevia via fermentation in yeast. Numerous patent applications have been filed around the approach.
The programme has progressed well since inception. In July 2011, we made the strategic decision to acquire Abunda to gain full ownership of the firm’s Stevia and other nutritional ingredient programs. Stevia research is primarily conducted at Evolva’s Copenhagen site, with development activities in the USA.
On 6 March 2013, we entered into an agreement with Cargill to jointly develop and commercialise fermentation-derived steviol glycosides. Cargill made a CHF 4.5 million equity investment in Evolva and in addition Evolva stands to receive up to USD 7.5 million in milestone payments. While Cargill will be responsible for the commercialisation, Evolva has the right to a participation of up to 45% in the final business. If Evolva decides not to exercise this option it will receive royalty payments from global sales of the co-developed steviol glycoside products; these royalties will scale from mid-single digit to low double-digit percentages as a function of sales volume and other parameters.
Cargill brings to the collaboration its vast manufacturing and commercial expertise in bulk sweeteners, food ingredients, and of course stevia sweeteners. Cargill is a global market leader in the stevia-based sweetener category with consumer products and as an ingredient, which can be found in a variety of branded food products and beverages sold in the U.S., Europe, Mexico, and South America.
The steviol glycoside product continues on track to progress into pilot scale in 2014