The Food and Drug Administration officially recognized stevia as safe Wednesday, opening the door for beverage companies Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Dr Pepper Snapple to begin using it in existing as well as new products.

Sprite Green
Stevia, a South American plant, is an all-natural, zero-calorie sweetener that had been sold as a dietary supplement before its recent FDA approval.

The FDA issued letters of no objection to Coke and Pepsi, recognizing each company’s newest sweetener, Truvia and PureVia respectively, as safe.

Pepsi will launch two new products featuring its stevia-derived PureVia. Zero-calorie SoBe Lifewater, in berry, apple, and pomegranate flavors, will hit shelves soon along with Trop50, a light orange juice product with 50 percent less sugar and calories, which will debut in March 2009.

Coke is also putting its natural sweetener to work already, using Truvia to create Sprite Green, a 50 calorie Sprite variety that is aimed at active young adults. In addition to Sprite Green, Coke is launching two new Odwalla juice flavors using the sweetener.

“The use of Truvia in Sprite Green and in Odwalla Quenchers was a natural fit,” says Coke’s director of communications, Ray Crockett, explaining why those products were the first to use Truvia.

Although it’s not clear how consumers will react to the new, strange-sounding sweeteners, Pepsi spokeswoman, Kristine Hinck, says the idea for the product came from consumer demands for healthier, more natural offerings.

“There certainly is going to be some education involved [in launching the products],” Hinck says. “But zero-calorie, naturally sweetened speaks for itself. It speaks volumes.”

As both beverage giants move quickly to get stevia-sweetened products out to the public, Dr Pepper Snapple said yesterday it expects to announce the launch of low-calorie drinks using a natural sweetener in the next few weeks.

Both Coke and Pepsi plan to expand the use of their all-natural sweeteners to other offerings in the future.

–Blair Chancey

News, PepsiAmericas