Stevia sweeteners are natural, zero-calorie, high-intensity sweeteners that are typically 200-300x sweeter than sugar. Currently extracted from farm-raised stevia plants, they are the fastest growing segment in the sweetener market today, formulated in thousands of food and beverage products.
Despite the undoubted success, there is a problem with the currently available stevia sweeteners – their taste. The most prevalent stevia sweeteners in the leaf (called “RebA”) have a lingering bitter, liquorice flavor, which gets worse at higher concentrations.
Solving the taste and production conundrum
The stevia plant also makes stevia sweeteners (for example, Reb D and Reb M) that do not have taste problems. Unfortunately, these are present at very low concentrations in the leaf, well below 1%. Getting commercial volumes of such sweeteners would require large amounts of resources and end up prohibitively expensive. By making these better-tasting sweeteners using yeast fermentation, Evolva solves this problem.
Cargill partnership and progress to market
In autumn 2015, our partner Cargill unveiled the branding of the next-generation zero-calorie sweetener under the name EverSweetTM. The product contains the great-tasting rebaudioside M (Reb M), and rebaudioside D (Reb D) and convincingly overcomes stevia’s previous taste issues.
We have made good progress in 2017. After the grant of a key EU patent in 2016, we received a pivotal patent grant (U.S. Patent No. 9,562,251) from the U.S. Patent & Trademark in February 2017. Of particular commercial importance, this patent protects methods for producing steviol glycosides for making Reb M by a number of production methods including fermentation, bioconversion, and other approaches. Evolva was the first company to identify and characterise several enzymes involved in Reb M biosynthesis pathways. Including this most recent patent, Evolva now has 17 granted and 88 pending applications around the world (including 2 granted in the US and 5 in Europe).
In April 2017 we announced a major collaboration agreement with Cargill for the production and commercialisation of EverSweetTM the next-generation stevia sweetener. Under the agreement, Evolva could receive up to 30% of the profits of the EverSweet™ business, determined as a function of the strain efficiencies achieved.
We currently expect the EverSweet™ product to launch in 2018. Under the commercialisation plan, the EverSweet™ product will be produced at Cargill’s advanced, highly efficient manufacturing campus in Blair, Nebraska (USA) through retrofitting existing facilities. The retrofit of Cargill’s fermentation facilities in Blair is progressing well and keeps the project on track for first production in 2018.
In parallel, Cargill is actively preparing the launch through various channels. The EverSweet™ product was presented at several industry conferences and samples have been shared with a large number of potential customers. Feedback is very positive, as customers are finding the EverSweet™ product can be used across a broad variety of product categories.