New kid on the block explores novel business model for stevia production

Picture: istockphoto-bdspn

California-based B’BOX Group claims to have developed a proprietary technique for producing clean-tasting, high-purity stevia extracts that is so fast and cost-efficient that it says leading CPG manufacturers are considering buying the technology and producing their own sweeteners – a new model for the industry.

Michel Rochel – a serial entrepreneur focused on plant-based technologies – founded B’BOX Corp in 2000, bringing together a multi-disciplinary team of scientists with backgrounds in biotechnology, organic chemistry, genetics, botany, molecular biology and health sciences, along with engineers specializing in the scale-up of bio-processes for large scale manufacturing.

The company - which is working on a range of projects from natural food preservatives to plant-based biofuels - says it is talking to multiple potential partners about producing its stevia pure leaf extracts, which Rochel claims are "game-changing" from a taste perspective, although he acknowledges that such claims are usually greeted with skepticism, until, he says, people actually try the samples.

“There’s a lot of suspicion because we are not known in the industry, but there is dissatisfaction with the stevia products currently on the market,he told FoodNavigator-USA, noting that with soda taxes gaining traction and added sugar labeling on the horizon, manufacturers have proved more open than they might otherwise have been to explore every option, even from an unknown player in the space.

"Manufacturers are desperate to cut sugar, and we’ve seen people turn 180 degrees once they have tried our product."

Asked about the IP around B'BOX's technology, he added: “This is a proprietary technology which is not patented, but is patent –ready.”

We want to sell the technology outright

Rochel’s aim is to sell the technology, not to license it, he said: "We want to sell it outright; we don't want to be an ingredients supplier, it's not what we do."

And while talking to CPG companies as well as ingredients suppliers is unorthodox (CPG companies do not typically engage in manufacturing or supplying ingredients), several companies had expressed an interest, he claimed.

“They [food and beverage manufacturers] can use the stevia in their own products, but they could also supply other companies. So for example, a big soda company may not want to sell it to its competitors in soda, but it might well want to sell it to food companies.

“The manufacturing is something they could subcontract out to a third party [who would produce the extracts using B’BOX’s proprietary process] and we can help them set this up. The technology is proprietary but the equipment involved is pretty standardized. The process is faster and more cost efficient than anything on the market today.”

Water extraction process, no enzymatic modification

When it comes to the stevia extracts, Rochel would not go into detail over which glycosides they contain, but said that the product is a “powder that is residue-free in aqueous solution, is shelf stable and does not precipitate.”

He added: “We use water to extract the sweet glycosides from the stevia plant. This water extract contains all the plant products inherent in stevia. Our technology then progressively removes chlorophyll, gums, colored phytochemicals, odor molecules, bitter components and finally water to derive at a non- hygroscopic, non-bitter, stevia extract.

"At each stage, there are several alternate methods that can be applied depending on the volumes that need to be handled. Currently, we are manufacturing stevia at a pilot plant scale which was scaled up from laboratory scale.”

He added: “Some stevia production methods use methanol for extraction while others use transglycosylation [using enzymes to modify the composition of the extracts to deliver a more sugar-like taste]. Other processes are unable to get rid of the bitter after taste or the licorice taste of their extracts and have to use masking agents such as dextrose, sucrose, erythritol in formulations with the extracts.

“Unlike some other stevia companies, B'BOX Group does not use methanol, enzymes and formaldehyde or other chemical modification to produce our stevia pure leaf.”

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