Nutrinova has announced progress in its mission to identify compounds that could yield new natural sweeteners for the food and beverage industry, in collaboration with BRAIN.
The German ingredients firm teamed up with the Biotechnology Research And Information Network, or BRAIN, in 2004, with the aim of developing new natural sweetener and sweetness enhancers.
The first communicated results of their endeavours - the identification of natural compounds of potential - are extremely timely given the spotlight that has been shining on natural sweeteners in recent times, as the industry hunts down low or no calorie alternatives to sweeteners produced by chemical processes, such as aspartame and sucralose.
Nutrinova president Eckart von Haefen said: "We have been engaged in a systematic search process to find potential high intensity sweeteners and sweetness enhancers, using proprietary natural compound libraries."
No indication has been given as to the source of these natural compounds. However patent applications have been filed for both the screening technologies used and the compounds they have uncovered.
Von Haefen said the companies' next step will be to conduct further evaluation of the substances, and put their minds to how to get them ready for the market.
An expected date for when the sweeteners could come to market was not given. However, spokesperson Barbara Plath said: "We are still at an early stage of a multi-year development process. As you know there will be several critical steps to market we have to manage next."
It is also not known whether regulatory barriers, such as novel foods approval, would need to be overcome.
The natural challenge
According to von Haefen, the market is hungry for a natural sweetener that "fulfils the quality and taste expectations of global food and beverage manufacturers".
Hitting the jackpot would help grow the market for high intensity sweeteners, which he said is worth more than US$1bn.
For Nutrinova, this would offer "attractive growth opportunities". Nutrinova is already credited with the sweetener Acesulfame K, a potassium salt, which it sells under the brand Sunett.
It is by no means the only company with an eye on the natural prize, however.
Much attention has been devoted to sweeteners derived from the stevia plant in the last year, especially since it emerged that Cargill was developing such a product in partnership with Coca Cola.
The upshot of this, branded Truvia, is in place on Cargill's launch pad, although GRAS (generally recognised as safe) status in the US for stevia's use as a sweetener rather than a dietary supplement.
Stevia sweeteners are seen by some as 'the holy grail' of natural, because of zero-calorie and low glycaemic index attributes.
PepsiCo is also believed to be developing a natural sweetener for use in its beverage products.
Other natural sweeteners nearing the market include Natur Research Ingredients' Cweet (1000x) and (3000x), which come from the West African fruit brazzein.
These still need to be confirmed as GRAS in the US, however, and global launch plans are not known.
Nutrinova's compatriot Wild, based in Heidelburg, has been marketing a fruit-derived natural sweetener called Fruit-Up since 2001.