Stevia Surge

September 8, 2010
Robby Gardner

While stevia takes its first steps into consumer food markets, a surge in functional beverages is perhaps most notable. Last month, FRS Healthy Energy (FRS; Foster City, CA) became the newest player to launch a drink sweetened with Stevia rebaudiana, and Nutritional Outlook caught up with the company to find out why it made the move.

 

While stevia takes its first steps into consumer food markets, a surge in functional beverages is perhaps most notable. Last month, FRS Healthy Energy (FRS; Foster City, CA) became the newest player to launch a drink sweetened with Stevia rebaudiana, and Nutritional Outlook caught up with the company to find out why it made the move.

FRS, which stands for Free Radical Scavenger, has always made quercetin its primary selling point. The all-natural antioxidant can be found in fruits, vegetables, and every FRS product-and science suggests it could support immune function and improve fitness while increasing endurance capacity. But for the average consumer, function needs flavor-and flavor often needs sugar.

"In order to get the maximum benefit of quercetin out of our product, we advise that people intake about three servings a day," says company president and CEO Carl Sweat. "But some of our consumers were asking if there was a way to have those three servings with fewer calories."

The answer was stevia-sweetening without calories. FRS took its entire full-calorie ready-to-drink line (previously 150 cal of fruit juice and organic evaporated cane juice) and converted it into a reduced-calorie line (90 cal of organic cane sugar, fruit juices, and zero-calorie stevia).

The resulting caloric contents fall short of those of the company's pre-existing line of four low-calorie beverages (25 cal each) because completely eliminating calories was not the point. "It's not as though our customers don't want any calories," says Sweat, "because they want a certain amount of calories for fuel. But the idea of getting 450 or 500 calories from drinking three of our beverages was just more than they felt was appropriate. The midrange that we were able to get to with the help of stevia reduced the calories without compromising taste."

Could stevia have an even greater presence in FRS products, which also include soft chews, powder mixes, and concentrates? It just might. Talks have been underway about moving some of the company's chewables to a sugar-stevia blend, but FRS says formulating with the chewable's consistency is still an open discussion.

In its short time in mainstream food and beverage markets, stevia evidently still has some kinks to work out. Another challenge commonly brought up by industry is the noticeable licorice taste that comes with the sweetener. In spite of such challenges, stevia-friendly companies are continuing forward.

Even beverage giants like PepsiCo (Purchase, NY) are finding agreement with stevia. As part of its new G2 Gatorade beverage line, PepsiCo has already released Natural G2, the first stevia-containing Gatorade, in Mexico. Natural G2 is expected to reach the United States by the end of this year.

Going full circle, PepsiCo is apparently courting quercetin, also. In a bid to "...access the fast-growing quercetin category," PepsiCo inked a deal to become the exclusive distributor of FRS products by September.

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