As consumers become more aware of the negative health impacts that come from consuming sugary drinks, soda manufacturers are seeing a steady decline in sales of their pop products. To counteract this changing consumer preference, many companies are investing in teas, and health drinks to appeal to the market. Although, for manufacturers like Coca-Cola, soda is still their main source of income – in Coke’s case about 70 percent. So, they have come up with a soda product that is naturally sweetened and does not have the aftertaste that many consumers point out as unappealing.
The challenge that a lot of soda companies face when producing zero calorie pop products is the taste that many zero calorie sweeteners have. Coke has already come out with Coke Zero and Diet Coke but many people prefer the taste of the original product. In order to appeal to the health-conscious consumer market, Coke had to find a way to replace the taste and texture that sugar brings to the product. A stevia sweetened soda was already launched by the brand but Coca-Cola Life still contained some sugar and consumers did not like the aftertaste.
“Our expectation is the category is going to continue to decline,” Gary Hemphill, a managing director and chief operating officer with Beverage Marketing Corporation’s research unit, said at the Beverage Forum conference in Chicago. “The challenge is really developing a natural, stable, zero-calorie sweetener that takes like sugar, which seems like a simple goal but has proven to be very, very daunting … and may never be perfectly accomplished.”
When it comes to zero-calorie sweeteners, stevia has a lot to offer. Sourced from the stevia plant, stevia sugar is 20 to 40 times sweeter than regular sugar. The plant is also rich in antioxidants and can help to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. Yet many soda products that are sweetened with stevia just don’t make the cut for consumers.
Coca-cola has not given up on this natural sweetener despite its earlier challenges. Recognizing stevia’s many glycosides – the chemical compounds that gives the plant its sweetness – Coca-Cola has found a way to incorporate a specific glycoside as a sweetener for their new product. The beverage manufacturer has partnered with stevia company PureCircle on a joint development and supply agreement for its patented Rebaudioside M glycoside (Reb M.). This glycoside has the ability to sweeten their products without leaving an aftertaste.
PureCircle, a leader in stevia research, has specifically developed this molecule for use in beverages. The company has over 60 stevia-related patents. Last month, PureCircle announced that it finished sequencing the plant’s genome with the help of KeyGene. The findings from their research provides deeper insight into stevia’s glycosides and where they can be used.
Though not all consumers have turned away from sugary drinks, enough of them have to the point where companies need to reinvent their products. The steady decline of soda sales is a red light for beverage manufacturers who are desperately trying to maintain or increase their revenue. This new stevia glycoside may be the answer to all their concerns.