Global ingredients solutions provider Tate & Lyle has launched a new research project with its stevia partner Sweet Green Fields and non-profit organisation Earthwatch.

The new project will assess the sustainability of the stevia sweetener supply chain.

Stevia is a naturally sourced low-calorie sweetener that is used by beverage and food producers as a sugar alternative. These substances also lower the calorie content of products.

Tate & Lyle sweetener platform innovation and global marketing vice-president Abigail Storms said: “As a leading provider of stevia to the food industry, Tate & Lyle wants to ensure that using stevia in greater quantities in the future as a replacement for sugar is a responsible choice for Tate & Lyle, as well as a healthy choice for consumers around the world.”

“Stevia farming is a key economic activity in many areas in China and a rapidly growing global ingredient for sugar replacement.”

Earthwatch will lead the stevia supply chain review, identifying steps that would ensure the regular incorporation of sustainable growing practices and the optimisation of socio-economic benefits.

Tate & Lyle, Sweet Green Fields and Earthwatch will use the research insights to establish sustainability best practice across its supply chains.

The majority of stevia used in Tate & Lyle and Sweet Green Fields’ products is grown in China. Earthwatch-led scientists have already started ground research in the country to evaluate the socio-environmental impacts of stevia production.

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The non-profit organisation also plans to engage with a wide range of stakeholders in the stevia supply chain, from seedling producers to family-run planters and industrial farms.

Earthwatch senior research manager Steven Loiselle said: “Stevia farming is a key economic activity in many areas in China and a rapidly growing global ingredient for sugar replacement. By working with local scientists and experts within China we are developing new knowledge for both Tate & Lyle, the broader stevia industry and local communities.”