The Coca-Cola Co and PepsiCo are plotting a new generation of low calorie soft drinks after the US food safety watchdog approved the use of natural sweeteners derived from the stevia plant.

Both The Coca-Cola Co and PepsiCo said yesterday (17 December) that they have received clearance to use their respective versions of the stevia-derived sweetener in drinks.

The US Food and Drug Administration has declared the sweeteners as "generally recognised as safe" (GRAS).

Following the official clearance, The Coca-Cola Co has announced the launch of Sprite Green, as an extension to the Sprite brand.

Sprite Green contains Truvia rebiana, a stevia sweetener that has been produced by a partnership between ingredients giant Cargill and Coca-Cola.

The drink will contain 50 calories per 8.5-ounce serving and will initially be aimed at teenagers and young adults, with a larger roll-out planned for early 2009, according to the soft drinks giant.

Cargill applied for clearance to use Truvia rebiana in the US back in May this year. "Given the extensive research conducted to assure the safety of Truvia rebiana, Cargill has tremendous confidence in the product," Marcelo Montero, president of Cargill Health & Nutrition, said yesterday.

Coca-Cola rival PepsiCo has also signalled its intention to launch drinks containing a stevia-derived sweetener named PureVia. The firm is expected to launch its first products under the SoBe Lifewater brand.

The stevia plant is native to Paraguay.

See the just-drinks special report on stevia sweeteners for more information.