Splenda owner seeks farmers to grow its own stevia in the US

Dive Brief:

  • Heartland Food Products Group, the company that makes Splenda, is searching for farmers in the U.S. to begin growing stevia that is bred specifically for Splenda sweetener.
  • In a statement, Heartland Food Products intends to be producing its stevia in the United States by June 2021. It predicted the crop will be grown in the South and Southeast regions of the county.
  • The Splenda Stevia produced by these plants will be the highest grade and focus on the sweetest glycosides, the company said.  

Dive Insight:

Even as other natural sweeteners arrive on the market, stevia retains its prominence as a natural alternative. Food and beverages using stevia sweeteners grew by 31% in 2018, which is a significant increase from the 11% growth rate in 2017. Splenda is taking advantage of stevia maintaining its dominance in the market as a natural alternative and giving its branded product one more alluring quality: made in the U.S.A.

A spokesperson for the company told Food Dive in an email he could not share Splenda’s current source for its stevia sweetener.  “At this time, we’re not supplying our Splenda Stevia as an ingredient into any other company’s products,” he said. “But with our future plans, this will certainly become an option.” These future plans center around growing stevia in the United States and separating out the different grades of stevia glycosides for use in Splenda-branded products and for sale as an extract on the open market, according to the company spokesperson.

Manufacturers continue to be sweet on stevia for a number of reasons, including taste improvements, cost and scale advantages and label considerations. Some extracts can be listed as natural flavors. Stevia also contains no calories and is naturally 30 to 40 times sweeter than sugar, so food and beverage makers can use less of it.

Though manufacturers can use less stevia in their products due to its intense sweetness, overall stevia is pricier than other options of the market. To try and lower the cost of the sweetener, several ingredient companies have come up with branded extracts with varying grades of stevia to accommodate different uses and price points. Splenda is taking a similar approach as it moves its production to the United States.

Stevia is relatively easy to grow and can be cultivated nearly anywhere. However, by bringing its source of raw materials closer to home, Splenda is hoping to attract more companies to use its sweetener. Although the high-grade Reb D extract will be retained by the company for use in its own sweeteners sold at retail, the lower-grade Reb A offers an option for manufacturers looking for a sweetener grown by a company that has become synonymous with sugar alternatives. Splenda made sucralose a household name, and perhaps by moving its production to the United States, it can do the same with its stevia.

Despite a recognizable name, Splenda is not the only competitor on the market. PureCircle makes its proprietary StarLeaf plants. Pyure and Apura Ingredients have marketed stevia options for years, and Cargill developed its own branded EverSweet stevia product in 2016. Sweet Green Fields and Tate & Lyle introduced a glycosylated stevia extract called Zolesse. With so many options on the market, it is clear the sweetener continues to be a popular choice for manufactures. At the same time, the competition will be challenging for Splenda.

Having the ability to tout the homegrown nature of its ingredients will work in Splenda’s favor, but only if farmers find success in growing it. According to the company, stevia has the potential to be an important U.S. agricultural crop because, acre for acre, the plant has the ability to yield significantly more value than current options. With high expectations pinned on the interest of farmers, it will be several months or years before the market is able to judge the quality or quantity of the crop produced in the U.S.A.

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