Cargill and Evolva still on track for 2018 launch of EverSweet fermented steviol glycosides

Cargill, Evolva on track for 2018 launch of EverSweet fermented stevia

EverSweet - the hotly-anticipated ‘next-generation’ Reb D and Reb M sweetener from Cargill and Evolva produced via fermentation – is on track for a 2018 launch, now that the two partners have thrashed out a production and commercialization deal.

The plan is to first produce the sweetener in Blair, Nebraska through retrofitting existing Cargill facilities, while in parallel, Evolva will build a new state-of-the-art bioprocessing facility on adjacent land leased from Cargill that will act as a production hub for other Evolva products, including nootkatone and resveratrol, and should come online in 2019.

Under the deal, Evolva will receive up to 30% of the EverSweet business, “determined as a function of the strain efficiencies achieved.” It also has the right to ask Cargill to support some of Evolva’s early cashflow commitments at a favorable interest rate, although it will not receive any further milestone payments from Cargill, said Evolva CEO Neil Goldsmith.

 “EverSweet is coming to market, and given it succeeds as we expect it to, Evolva will see 30% of the upside whilst mitigating some of our initial cash outflows. Plus our planned US production hub, working alongside Cargill, provides the foundation for truly scalable, low cost, high quality, production for Evolva’s other key products.”

Evolva CEO: A 2018 launch would still maintain our first mover advantage  

EverSweet was originally scheduled to hit the market in 2016 following a soft launch at the Supply Side West show in 2015. However, while Cargill and Evolva claimed to have nailed the taste, they acknowledged in March 2016 that they had yet to refine the production process such that costs were at an acceptable level.

The launch, said Evolva at the time, was delayed owing to a “complex combination of factors, including strain characteristics; fermentation and downstream processing costs; facility conversion costs, production scale, customer indications on pricing.”

Why fermentation?

While the best-known steviol glycoside - Reb A – can be extracted from the stevia leaf in commercial quantities, it has a bitter aftertaste that formulators have struggled to overcome in certain applications.

However, better-tasting steviol glycosides such as Reb M and Reb D are present in the stevia leaf in such tiny quantities (less than 0.5% by dry leaf weight), Cargill and Evolva claim that it is not commercially viable or environmentally responsible (you’d need huge amounts of land devoted to stevia plants) to extract them from stevia leaves – a view disputed by market leader PureCircle, which says it is “now absolutely commercially viable” to source minor glycosides from the leaf.

By using a genetically engineered baker’s yeast to convert sugars (Cargill is using corn dextrose as a feedstock but could use cane sugar) into these more desirable glycosides via a fermentation process, Cargill and Evolva can produce them on a commercial scale.

According to Evolva, EverSweet delivers “a great taste with better sweetness intensity, faster sweetness onset and improved sweetness quality - without the bitterness or off-note aftertaste common with other stevia sweeteners.”

In summer 2016, the FDA issued a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) no objections letter for EverSweet, qualifying it for use in food and beverages.

EverSweet works particularly well in low and zero calorie beverages

While the production process has been getting more media attention than the products, the feedback from leading CPG companies suggests EverSweet could be a game-changer in the beverage industry as firms look to make more drastic reductions in sugar, Cargill told FoodNavigator-USA in late 2015.

If the first wave of Reb-A sweeteners enabled sugar reductions of 30%, and platforms such as Cargill’s ViaTech  have since pushed the bar to 70% or more, Reb D and Reb M can deliver the Holy Grail in beverage formulation, a zero calorie cola, without any bitter aftertaste, the company claimed.

Cargill has also used EverSweet in zero-calorie fruit waters, sweet teas, lemon-lime sodas and other products that have a full-bodied mouthfeel and sugar-like taste profile that is “just not possible” with the Reb-A based sweeteners currently on the market, the company added.

Stevia… minus the leaf?

However, stevia rivals PureCircle and Sweet Green Fields have both queried how the market will respond to EverSweet, given that the primary reason food and beverage manufacturers started experimenting with stevia in the first place was precisely due to its ‘natural’ credentials (it’s from a leaf).

PureCircle VP global marketing and innovation, Faith Son, told FoodNavigator-USA last month, that while EverSweet Reb D+M might be chemically identical to the Reb D+M extracted from a stevia leaf, consumers may view it differently: 

 “From a market perspective in terms of what consumers are ultimately looking for, the fact that it [EverSweet] doesn’t come from the stevia plant flies in the face of everything that we know from our proprietary consumer research and all market research into what consumers are looking for, which is naturally sourced plant based ingredients. So from that standpoint we do not believe it’s what consumers want.”

What is EverSweet? A high-potency sweetener developed by Swiss synthetic biology pioneer Evolva and US ingredients giant Cargill comprising the steviol glycosides Reb D and Reb M (which are found naturally in the stevia leaf in very low concentrations).

What does it taste like? According to Evolva, EverSweet “delivers better sweetness intensity, faster sweetness onset and improved sweetness quality – without the bitterness or off-note aftertaste common to existing stevia sweeteners.”

How is it made? In large fermentation tanks, in which a genetically engineered baker’s yeast converts sugars (in this case, corn dextrose) into Reb D and Reb M. The yeast is completely removed from the final product, which is further concentrated and purified.

How is it labeled? Reb M and Reb D/steviol glycosides/Rebaudioside M and Rebaudioside D.

What are the potential applications? Everything from dairy to tabletop sweeteners and alcoholic beverages, but low or zero calorie beverages are the sweet spot.

Is it safe?  Cargill has received a letter of no objection from the FDA over its GRAS determination for EverSweet.

When will it launch? 2018

Is it ‘natural’? Cargill isn’t actively marketing EverSweet as a natural sweetener, and says it has worked extensively with consumers, NGOs, and customers to decide how to position it to keep everyone happy: “We’re not trying to disguise anything or mislead anyone. We’re not saying EverSweet is from the stevia leaf; we’re not using it in our Truvia stevia business [which uses steviol glycosides extracted from stevia leaves]; and we’re not even actually marketing it as stevia, even though the Reb D and Reb M we’re producing is chemically identical to what you’d extract from the leaf."

Is it non-GMO? The genetically engineered yeast used to make EverSweet serves as a processing aid, and is not present in the final product, meaning it would not require a GMO label under new federal GMO labeling legislation. However, it wouldn’t pass muster with the Non-GMO Project, which says ingredients produced via ‘synthetic biology’ do not qualify for its Non-GMO Project Verified stamp.

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