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EUROPE: PureCircle expects EU stevia approval in 2011

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PureCircle expects stevia-based sweeteners to be cleared for use in the European Union within the next two months, and the company is gearing up to meet demand. 

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By the end of 2011, PureCircle expects full clearance for stevia sweeteners to be used in a range of food and drink sold across the EU's 27 member states. If the EU backing is secured as planned, producers would be free to use the plant-based sweeteners in products such as soft and alcoholic drinks, ice cream, snack bars and chewing gum.

Approval for stevia in the EU would open up an important new market for suppliers. In July this year, the EU's Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health gave its blessing to the sweeteners, which are derived from the stevia plant and are up to 400 times sweeter than sucrose.

PureCircle has established a UK business division in anticipation of regulatory clearance. At a conference held in London today (3 November), the firm's president of global commercial operations, Jordi Ferre, said: “The recent launch of our UK operation demonstrates PureCircle’s commitment to the European market, and our confidence that stevia is going to be popular in the region. European consumers are calling for more natural choices."

The company intends to market stevia's health credentials, and in particular its potential use as a weapon against rising obesity rates. Group VP of global marketing and innovation, Jason Hecker, said: "Our current operations have the capacity to produce enough stevia ingredients to reduce over 2tn calories per year. To put this into context, it is enough to remove over 5bn calories a day from UK diets."

However, while companies such as PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Co and Dr Pepper Snapple are already using stevia sweeteners in some products in the US, there remain doubts about how big the potential market could be. Speaking to just-drinks last year, PepsiCo's SVP of global health policy cautioned against treating stevia as a magic bullet: "We have got a market that contains things called consumers and they tend to be rather fussy about taste," he said. 

For PureCircle's most recent fiscal year, to the end of June, the company swung to net losses of US$18.5m, versus profits of $1.2m in the previous year. Net sales fell by 12% to $53.3m after the group reduced production to "better align with current market demand". 

Separately today, PureCircle said that Halfmoon Bay Capital has bought an extra 0.5m shares in the company at GBP0.91 each. This brings Halfmoon's total shareholding to 12,568,734 shares, equivalent to 8.1% of PureCircle's issued equity.


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