Talking to Restaurant India Ajay Chandran, Senior Director and Head of South Asian, PureCircle shares about the benefit of Stevia.
Over the years people have become much more conscious about what they eat and the calorie content in their diet. No matter if they are eating at a restaurant or travelling with a mini meal kit they want to know the calorie count in their food intake. To cut short, they are looking for low calorie options and diets. Going by this global trend stevia came into existence which is turning out to be a trending product when it comes to low calorie sweetener. PureCircle which started as a biotech company by a Russian to envisaged situation where the big companies are going to come back for calorie reduction or sugar reduction and needed a natural sweetener. The group went to different regulatory authorities from 2000 to 2008 showing them all the scientific studies and data that said stevia is safe. US FDA was the first to approve stevia as a sweetener and since then all the major countries approved it. Now, stevia is available in 65 countries and more than 5 billion consumers are already consuming it globally. After four years of struggle the product is now approved by the food regulatory body in India to market and enter the Indian market. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Tell us something about Pure Circle and what do you do?
PureCircle is one of the leading producers of high purity innovation driven stevia ingredients. Since 2011, the company has provided enough stevia to eliminate 1.3 trillion calories from global diets. We take out the sweet part of stevia leaves and purify and extract out of it and identify that there are 40 such molecules in each of the leaves which is a natural sweetener. PureCircle is a leading company that is completely into the mining and refining of stevia leaves and bringing it as commercially viable sweetener and in some cases also as a natural flavor.
Why stevia? Sugar is also a natural component.
There is no doubt that sugar is also a natural sweetener but it has high calorie count that is the major issue. But sweetener like stevia has a low calorie and that’s the difference we are trying to bring to the society. We are on the move to educate people about the benefits of the product.
How are you trying to place stevia in the market?
We are not a niche player and are not looking to make stevia as a product that will settle for certain class of consumers. Our company’s vision is to mainstream stevia as next mass natural sweetener, see it in kitchens replacing sugar and sugar products. And, I think it is a great ingredient and we need to create awareness about the product. We are starting with baby steps first and will introduce the ingredient in the market. Globally, in countries like Europe, the US and in some parts of Asia customers have already taken 30-40% off existing products using stevia and the awareness is building.
Will you be setting up a facility here in India?
Our hope is to generate the demand to justify the leaf base and extraction plan. We are already churning the trial in Gurgaon. And, in the next few years we will actually have large firms here and maybe able to supply either for an extraction plant here or in China.Right now the white stevia powder is being exported from Malaysia to India and is used by the food manufacturers.
Do you think that you need to work on the branding?
We are strong enough on the brand side. It’s a 100 year old company with strong heritage and presence. We want to provide the goodness of this miraculous plant to the whole country as India as a country faces a lot of public health challenges, environmental challenges and this is one of those things which really help the farmer in terms of income and it gets adopted as a mainstream sweetener giving a higher income to the farmer.
Where can we see stevia being grown in India?
Hundreds of acres of stevia are being grown in India at places like Karnataka, Sikkim and Gujarat to name a few. Stevia is called by many names including Madhupatra, Mithi Tulsi, Madhupatti, Seeni Tulsi in different parts of the country. And, we are here to create that awareness.
How much finished product is extracted from a given amount of raw leaves?
Typically if you have 20 thousand metric tons of leaves you can end up making 2000 metric tons of final products. So our global capacity of extracting finished product is about to get doubled with our new plant coming in for looking close from 4000 metric tons of finished products.
Are you planning to shift to B2C Company?
No, we are a very clearly B2B company and we work behind these companies and brands to help them manufacture products. So it is the companies that we support. And, globally we are suppliers to some of the big names in the market.