Despite the adverse effects of drought on stevia production in China, major stevia suppliers can still fulfill their current obligations as they report having sufficient product quantities. It is worth noting that stevia, like other crops in agriculture, is susceptible to weather-related disruptions.
Maria Teresa Scardigli, the executive director of the International Stevia Council (ISC), says there has been a rise in the leaf production potential for plant-based stevia in areas such as Latin America. She also notes that there has been a shift among farmers worldwide to other crops due to the increasing demand from the industry.
Innovative production techniques like fermentation and bioconversion can create a next-generation version of stevia that can mitigate supply chain disruptions and crop-related problems. This advanced stevia provides an excellent and pure taste, making it a popular choice in the market.
Consumers And Manufacturers Are Searching For Better Tasting Stevia.
Maria Teresa Scardigli notes that the stevia supply chain’s capacity to comprehend the worldwide production estimates and adopt new production methods to extract the most flavorful portions of the stevia leaf have facilitated the industry’s ability to match the innovation speed in the sugar reduction sector and product reformulation.
Both consumers and manufacturers actively seek improved taste in stevia, with a strong preference for natural and plant-based varieties.
Numerous companies are investing significantly in agronomic research to enhance stevia strains. These efforts primarily focus on increasing the levels of rare steviol glycosides, such as Reb M and Reb D, which contribute to the sweetness of stevia.
In addition to improving stevia, the International Stevia Council (ISC) has grown interested in exploring unconventional methods for producing nature-identical steviol glycosides. Novel processing methods and techniques, such as bioconversion, are used for this purpose.
According to Scardigli, some companies are actively investing in diversifying the sources of plant-based stevia supply from various regions, including Latin America. This diversification aims to enhance the taste of stevia.
With the global focus on sweetness intensifying, having access to a broad range of steviol glycosides, including rare and distinct varieties, is crucial in addressing the problems of unpleasant taste, bitterness, and lingering aftertaste commonly associated with earlier versions of stevia sweeteners.
Scardigli further states that the latest form of stevia minimizes these negative attributes. Therefore, as manufacturers contemplate their sugar reduction strategies, the International Stevia Council (ISC) urges them to reassess stevia’s potential. They emphasize that the stevia sweetener available today is significantly improved from the stevia of the past.
Sweegen, a company based in the United States, produces a range of sought-after sweetener ingredients, including the highly desirable Reb M and Reb D, through a clean and non-GMO bioconversion method. Their extensive stevia portfolio is derived from this process.
According to Sweegen’s Vice President of Global Innovation, Casey McCormick, their sustainable approach to producing stevia ingredients has put them in a prime position worldwide. The company’s manufacturing operations in Europe and Asia ensure they are easily accessible, consistent, and reliable. It is critical for brands seeking a dependable supply of sweetener ingredients for food and beverage development.
What Problems Faced By Stevia Market?
Climate Disruption Impacts The Stevia Supply.
According to Mavis Ran, the Business Unit Director of Howtian, a stevia producer based in China, the secure supply of agricultural raw materials is a common issue faced by plant-based ingredient manufacturers. The stevia industry is no exception.
Ran highlights that several factors, including macro issues like climate change and specific matters concerning stevia, such as the natural inconsistency of the vital sweet components in stevia leaves, are responsible for these challenges. Ran believes stevia is less vulnerable to common weather-related challenges than natural sweeteners.
Ran provides an example, stating that monk fruit cultivation is generally feasible only in a few regions. In contrast, stevia can grow well in a broader range of climates and areas. However, she acknowledges that weather disruptions can still potentially affect the availability and supply of stevia.
Howtian has adopted various measures to address these risks, including diversifying the regions for cultivation and developing leaf variants more suitable for different climatic conditions.
Ran emphasizes that farming communities’ income-earning potential can vary significantly depending on their cultivated crops. She notes that a crop can be very profitable in some years but not so much in others, and since it is farming, the weather will always have a fundamental impact.
To illustrate, the amount and quality of glycosides obtained from stevia leaves may differ with each harvest, which can directly impact the profitability of a particular farm. As a result, the willingness of farmers to cultivate stevia in a given year is influenced by such factors, ultimately affecting the manufacturing output that can be expected from a particular growing season.
According to Nate Yates, the global platform leader for Sugar Reduction at Ingredion, stevia supply is susceptible to difficulties and interruptions caused by weather, pests, and other typical delays in the supply chain, which are common to any agricultural crop.
PureCircle, now part of Ingredion, has an advantage in dealing with these challenges. It has a vertically integrated system that covers the entire process, from developing stevia seedlings to producing finished ingredients. Currently, PureCircle has not reported any problems with its stevia supply chain.
Nate Yates explains that PureCircle’s investments in stevia production and its network of contracted farmers enhance the transparency of their stevia ingredients. This approach also helps to reduce the influence of stevia leaf aggregators on the supply chain and minimizes the uncertainties for food and beverage (F&B) brands.
Rising Costs Are Causing Broader Industry Problems.
Several factors, such as the current political instability and fluctuations in the global economy, significantly impact the supply and cost of various ingredients.
The cost of energy, inflation, and rising labor expenses are all factors that put pressure on multiple industries, including the stevia industry. Nonetheless, according to Howtian, the positive aspect of using stevia as a sweetener is that extracting it is comparably less complicated and cleaner than that of artificial sweeteners since stevia is a natural extract.
Ran notes that natural stevia differs from other ingredients that require chemical processing and can be influenced by several cost-related factors. Stevia is a natural extract with minimal processing and utilizes fewer auxiliary materials.
Moreover, Howtian employs a clean extraction technology that contributes to a 60% reduction in water consumption and takes advantage of energy usage efficiencies. Howtian emphasizes that although they are not entirely immune to prevailing economic conditions and macro trends, their operations are comparatively less impacted by the marketplace’s volatility.
The COVID-19 fallout.
Ran mentions that the stevia supply chain underwent its most difficult challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic years.
Ran explains that despite the unprecedented challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the stevia supply chain demonstrated its strength and resilience. It is attributed to the significant contribution of farming communities and global distribution partners who played a crucial role in ensuring the continuity of the supply chain.
Howtian emphasizes that research and development (R&D) and innovation have created new stevia leaf varieties with increased steviol glycoside content and significantly higher extraction yields. This advancement has played a crucial role in reducing the cost of stevia, rendering it more affordable and stable in recent years.
Ran recalls that in 2022, the stevia industry achieved a crucial milestone when they obtained the highest ever Reb A yield of 12% from their latest leaf variety. This accomplishment was well-received by global food and beverage (F&B) manufacturers as it made stevia more cost-effective and readily available than ever before.
Howtian has recently concluded their breeding season by the end of April and, based on their latest estimates, foresee a significant increase in plantation areas in 2023. Ran affirms that this development is a positive sign indicating that the cost of actual stevia products will remain stable and at historically reasonable levels for this year.
How To Achieve Scaling Stevia?
According to Yates, who works at PureCircle by Ingredion, precision fermentation, and bioconversion technologies are being used to enhance the company’s ability to produce cost-effective and scalable stevia solutions with superior taste performance.
Scardigli, from ISC, states that the market is increasingly adopting novel technologies to produce stevia.
According to her, certain ingredient manufacturers use precision fermentation and bioconversion methods to produce stevia sweeteners. This alternative production approach moves away from traditional field cultivation and instead takes place in fermentation vats, ensuring a dependable and consistent supply. These techniques are beneficial for accessing steviol glycosides like Reb M and Reb D, known for their exceptional taste profile. They are naturally found in limited quantities in the stevia leaf.
Reb M and Reb molecules are some of the least abundant compounds in the stevia leaf, making up less than 1% of its composition. The utilization of fermentation methods not only helps to address this scarcity issue but also results in environmental advantages such as reduced water and land usage and lower carbon emissions, in contrast to the conventional approach of sourcing stevia from plants.
According to Scardigli, the bioconversion production technique commences with the extraction of steviol glycosides from the stevia leaf, which is subsequently transformed into diverse desired steviol glycosides like Reb M, Reb D, or other distinct glycosides.
She remarks that bioconversion imitates the natural maturation process of the stevia plant and provides an alternative route for acquiring sweet compounds present in minute quantities in the stevia leaf. The use of precision fermentation and bioconversion methods offers the advantage of obtaining a consistent and dependable supply of nature-identical ingredients in a scalable, cost-effective, and sustainable manner, which is superior to conventional production techniques.
The Last Point Needs To Focus On Regulatory Hurdles.
Sweegen observes significant trends in facilitating the regulatory clearance process for stevia technologies.
According to McCormick, not all stevia products are equal in quality. He highlights that CODEX, an international organization that promotes food safety, established a framework for several stevia technologies, including Sweegen’s proprietary clean bioconversion method. The framework enables countries to quickly access these ingredients by adopting the guidelines laid out by CODEX.
The latest trend is to produce a sugar-like sensation using stevia as a base. However, there is a gap in the market for enhancing taste modulation in food and beverage (F&B) applications by reinstating flavor, mouthfeel, and bulk.
Furthermore, PureCircle by Ingredion is actively exploring avenues to expand the range of its stevia ingredient sources in terms of geographic diversity within and outside of China. Additionally, they pride themselves on being the sole supplier capable of producing stevia molecules through all significant stevia technologies, encompassing precision fermentation and bioconversion.
Yates concludes that this strategy guarantees a consistent, scalable, dependable supply of the most delicious stevia ingredients.
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