Joint venture to bring zero-calorie sweeteners to market faster

Avansya, a joint venture between Cargill and Royal DSM, will help food and beverage producers to deliver the products and brands consumers love, with significantly reduced calories

As food and beverage producers look to significantly reduce the calories in their offerings to consumers, they need non-artificial, zero-calorie and great-tasting sweetener options (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Responding to this driver, Cargill and Royal DSM, a global science-based company in nutrition, health and sustainable living, have announced a new joint venture, Avansya, to rise to this challenge.

Together, the companies will produce highly sought-after, sweet-tasting molecules such as steviol glycosides Reb M and Reb D by fermentation, giving food and beverage manufacturers an even more scalable, sustainable and low cost-in-use solution than if these same molecules were extracted from the stevia leaf.

Stevia is an important, natural and high-intensity sweetener. Reb M and Reb D are the most interesting stevia-derived molecules, offering the best taste profile, but are only available in very low concentrations.

Fermentation-produced Reb M and Reb D provide a more scalable, sustainable and lower cost-in-use solution than any other available technology: their great taste, consistent quality, reliable supply and sustainable production make them affordable for customers and consumers.

As such, fermentative Reb M and Reb D are well-positioned to replace existing artificial high-intensity sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, Ace-K, etc.), as well as reduce the use of all other high caloric sweeteners. Notably, the market opportunity for fermentative high-intensity sweeteners is expected to grow to more than €3 billion by 2025.

And, although, replacing sugar is not only a matter of replacing sweetness, with their broad product offering (including textures), both partners are well positioned to address sugar’s multiple functionalities.

The new venture will combine both companies’ technologies for producing steviol glycoside products made through fermentation and will market its products under one brand name, EverSweet. The joint venture will be a 50–50 partnership between the two companies. The establishment of the joint venture is subject to regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions … but expected to be finalised during the first calendar quarter of 2019.

The partnership leverages the two companies’ highly complementary strengths for bringing to market fermentation-derived Reb M and Reb D steviol glycosides: DSM brings its leading biotechnology know-how, providing R&D expertise, including strain development and fermentation process development capabilities, as well as customer relationships in specific market segments; Cargill brings its unrivalled application expertise and global commercial footprint in the sweetener market, as well as large-scale fermentation capacity with access to colocated, raw material suppliers at its Blair, Nebraska (USA) site.

The joint venture will make use of a new fermentation facility being built at the site in Blair, which is expected to be completed and operating in summer 2019. “We are delighted to announce this game-changing joint venture with Cargill,” said DSM Food Specialties President, Patrick Niels.

“One of the most significant transformations in global food and beverage markets is the drive to reduce sugar in people’s diets. This partnership will allow us to bring sustainably produced sugar-reduction solutions based on steviol glycosides to market faster and more effectively at a scale to deliver global impact. Both DSM and Cargill are purpose-led companies. We want to positively impact our societies, enable our customers’ brands and businesses to be successful in their markets, and in doing so support our own further growth.”

“The demand for sugar-reduction solutions is urgent, global and growing fast,” said Cargill Vice President Food Segment North America, Chris Simons. “While consumers are searching out foods and beverages that help meet their dietary needs or goals, whether for a diabetic diet or simply reducing calories and sugar intake, brand owners know that great taste can’t be compromised. By partnering with DSM, we can further advance a commercialised Reb M & Reb D product line that offers what consumers desire.”

Delving deeper

Talking to Patrick at the recent SupplySide West show, he added: “Both of our companies realised that obesity is an issue that needs to be addressed. Two out of every five adults in the US is overweight, for example, so there is a significant and unmet need for zero-calorie sweeteners. Also, consumers are increasingly demanding natural products, including sweeteners; and, as we offer plant-based stevia, both companies decided a while ago to really focus on making those plant-based products taste as good and pure as possible, ensuring a reliable supply and optimising the quality of the end product.”

“What we had for a while in the industry was a chicken and egg situation, whereby no one was really applying large-volume technologies to process stevia. Nobody wanted to take the plunge … until now! We’d been working on producing fermentative stevia behind the scenes, so to speak, and we realised that as the technology was developing quite well, we had reached a point when we needed greater capacity. Before investing ourselves in new plant, we examined the possibility of a collaboration, and that’s when we contacted Cargill.”

“It soon became obvious that there was a lot of mutual synergy. As well as capacity, we also needed know-how and experience. Cargill has unparalleled expertise within the sweetener space and, as they were already in the process of building a new facility, we discovered that DSM was able to contribute certain components and technology. And, once we agreed on a 50-50 partnership, further discussions went extremely smoothly, right up until the official announcement.”

Adding to the discussion, Cargill’s Andrew Ohmes, Product Line Manager, Starches and Sweeteners, North America, said: “This is a match made in heaven. We’re very excited to continue to bring steviol glycosides to market, including fermentative Reb M and Reb D, at a lower cost, larger scale to serve our customers who are looking at sugar reduction. Obesity is a global problem; the World Health Organization is calling for a limited amount of sugar in our daily diet, which we exceed every day. So, how do we address that when the consumer still wants sweet treats and foodstuffs?”

Next steps

Given stevia’s poor reception in the past, I ask Andrew about getting the reduced sugar message to the consumer and ultimate end user. “We have to focus on improving existing products. Yes, 8 years ago when stevia came onto the market, everybody started using it, formulating with it, etc., and no one really had any idea what they were doing,” he commented, adding with a smile: “Companies were releasing some really bad products at the time, which put people off.”

“One of our jobs, going to market in the fragrance/flavour and food/beverage space, is to pull the consumers back and encourage them to try stevia again. In terms of labelling, stevia has migrated from front-of-package to the back; so, shoppers are trying a product, discovering that it tastes good and almost finding out by accident that it contains stevia … and that’s testament to the amount of innovation and research being done by companies such as Cargill and DSM to formulate with Reb M and Reb D and improve the overall dietary experience … and tackle obesity at the same time.”

As food and beverage producers look to significantly reduce the calories in their offerings to consumers, driving a growing need for non-artificial, zero-calorie, great-tasting sweetener options, naturally occurring fermentation-derived molecules such as steviol glycosides Reb M and Reb D are perfectly positioned to profit from key trends in today’s food ingredients segment.

Companies