In 2013 we reported on Capital Region startup Stevia First and its CEO Robert Brooke’s goal of making his company the first domestic distributor of stevia (“Sugar & Splice,” Laurie Lauletta-Boshart). Stevia First made significant progress last year, most notably by entering into a partnership with China-based stevia distributor Qualipride International Ltd.
“We’re marrying that large, overseas supply chain with our California operations,” says Brooke, “and with enzyme enhancement technologies — an ag-biotech approach — we’ve developed a way to help reduce the cost of stevia and make its production more reliable year-over-year.”
Last March, the World Health Organization dropped its sugar intake recommendations from 10 to five percent of daily caloric intake — that’s almost half of what can be found in a full-calorie can of cola. That move has increased opportunities for Stevia First with beverage suppliers.
To better serve its b2b market, Stevia First produces two to three times more Reb A, the super sweet molecule that makes it such a sought-after sugar supplement, per crop. The company has proprietary rights over the process and is now looking to commercialize it. Brooke says he’d like to establish the U.S.’s first dedicated stevia and extraction facility in Sacramento. The China deal gives Stevia First exclusive license over Qualipride’s designs for extraction and purification, which Brooke says they plan to replicate and improve upon.
Right now, most stevia is grown in China, but if Brooke has his way he’ll shift the tide.
“The global market requires maybe 50,000 acres planted in China, and in California there are more than 2 million acres suited for forage crop production,” he says. “We could convert only a fraction of that to stevia and support the demand from multinational food and beverage companies.”
Learn more about agtech innovation in the Capital Region next week in Allison Joy’s February feature, “The New World of Ag.” Sign up for our newsletter and we’ll email you when it’s available online.
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