Stevia and the Evolution of Healthier Food for the 99%

Greetings health advocates and stevia enthusiasts, Robert Brooke here, back with some exciting news about stevia, the ill effects of sugar consumption, and how we may be on the verge of a healthy food revolution for “the 99%”.

Nearly everyone’s life is touched in some way by junk and processed foods, because it’s mostly the ‘foodie elite’ who can avoid and convince their loved ones to shun these all too convenient, inexpensive, and tasty products.

The good news, and often untold story, is that healthy improvements are being sought everyday by passionate individuals at companies that make or sell what could be defined as junk or processed food. A notable example is that Coca-Cola continues to take significant steps to introduce healthier products with stevia. When a beverage giant becomes active in pursuing and promoting healthy alternatives, in this case by altering its existing product line to reduce calories using great tasting stevia, it allows for more responsible consumption on a vast scale.

These positive changes may not impact the 1% who are able to avoid processed and junk foods altogether. But consumers in emerging markets across Asia and South America will benefit because their adoption of a Western diet will involve less consumption of beverages with ridiculous and unnatural levels of sugar. Consumers in America could benefit for the same reason, and also by simply having another tasty and healthier option that is available at every corner store, gas station, or major fast food chain. This could be especially helpful in “food deserts”; communities often plagued by poverty where it’s difficult, costly, or inconvenient to eat fresh foods.

When considering the “drug” (sugary beverages), it’s important not to overlook the distribution mechanism. One of the key delivery systems for sugary beverages is fast food chains, particularly for adolescents and young adults, who get an astounding 20% and 31.5% of their daily calories from fast food, respectively. Those who consume fast food more than four times per week, drink an average of nearly 2 cans of soda per day. A couple cans of soda per day might not seem like a big deal, but every daily serving of soda is associated with a 60% increased risk of obesity. These youth are at-risk and being setup for failure, and beverages from fast food chains are a significant contributor to the problem. Sweetened beverages clearly are to blame in this context, as adding a sugary beverage to your fast food meal can raise the overall sugar content by a startling 10-fold increase.

On a more optimistic note, we shouldn’t forget that many people at large companies, including the fast food chains, are actively working to make their products healthier. When the right tools aren’t available, this can result in commercial disaster, like the failed release of the McLean Deluxe from McDonald’s, where the only lasting impact was that many of the people who developed it lost their jobs. But when healthy and sustainable product introductions are tested and executed properly they can result in a serious win-win-win for companies, consumers, and the environment alike.

This is what stevia offers to not only Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Cargill, and other multinational food and beverage producers, but also to their major distributors such as McDonald’s, Chipotle, Subway, and others. Stevia enables mainstream beverages that are healthier and more sustainable than sugar, and which have a taste and appeal that resonates with the many consumers who already avoid artificial sweeteners.

Of note, Chipotle has recently launched a “Food With Integrity” program, along with a dramatic short film that highlights key elements of the program:

Could a “Beverages With Integrity” program be next? Might it have an even more pronounced impact on public health, the environment, and their bottom line? Perhaps Chipotle could become a leader in this area by prominently displaying the sugar and calorie content of beverages they serve, by offering their sugary beverages from separate and clearly designated fountains, or by taking steps to eliminate sugary beverages altogether. Would Subway champion a new idea and become the first to really capitalize on what stevia products can do? They already make Vitaminwater Zero available, a zero-calorie stevia product that achieved over $100 million in sales in its first year.

In any case, each of these healthy product innovations could be a big win and result in lasting impact for consumers and the environment (stevia production uses 82% less carbon and 95% less water compared to sugar production). Of course, product innovation and adoption at this scale would be a boon to the stevia industry as well. At Stevia First, we’re helping speed this transition by enabling products that can become available at large-scale and that will appeal to mainstream consumers. For instance, at our upcoming tasting event in December, we are showcasing stevia that is produced using fermentation, which could enable a significant reduction in Reb A production costs and soon make the global supply of stevia much more reliable and scalable.

Just as with the financial crisis, there is no solution to problems that only impact the 1%. We acknowledge it would be pointless to ask industry giants to abandon their flagship snacks and beverages, but they can and should be encouraged to pursue healthier and more sustainable reformulations when you consider what’s possible with stevia. There will always be a question of what is ideal or perfect, but there’s no question these small steps would represent huge progress on multiple fronts.

We will continue to monitor these exciting developments and look forward to discussing the increasingly important evolution of stevia as a sweetener and positive lifestyle alternative.


Robert Brooke


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Robert Brooke, Stevia First’s CEO, is a proven biotechnology entrepreneur driven by his passion for optimal health.

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