In 2004, Cid Botanicals, maker of several different stevia products, began its mission of providing “the best botanical traditions and ancestral knowledge from around the globe,” and set out to share their knowledge and tradition with the rest of the world. Using plants found in the Amazon, combined with modern science, Cid Botanicals aims to help humans live longer, healthier and happier lives.
NewHope360 talked to managing director of Cid Botanicals, Roberto F. Cid Jr., about the benefits of stevia, some of the controversy surrounding it and what the future has in store for this natural botanicals company.
newhope360: Why stevia?
Roberto Cid: Stevia is a plant with about 240 species that is native to South America, particularly the area that is today Paraguay and Brazil. It has historically been used by the Guaraní tribes that inhabit that region to sweeten their traditional yerba mate tea. It was later made known to Europeans in the late nineteenth century by a Swiss botanist and explorer by the name of Moises Bertoni from which we get the botanical name of the commonly used species for sweeteners “stevia rebaudiana bertoni.” It is very popular today for its ability to sweeten without adding calories or carbohydrates, making it a perfect all-natural sugar substitute.
newhope360: How is your product made and where do you source your ingredients?
RC: Cid Botanicals Stevia proudly comes from South America, specifically from the region from which the plant is originally from, Paraguay. Our ingredients are very simple: stevia leaf extract from Paraguay; inulin fiber from Chile sourced from chicory, a plant that is high in fiber; and 1 percent is silica, a naturally occurring element that helps keep the product fresh.
In the case of our flavored stevias, which I believe we were the first to manufacture in packet form, we teamed up with a flavoring company in South America that specializes in natural flavors. For example, in order for our Mocha flavor to fit our low glycemic index requirement, it doesn’t contain any dairy products or sugar. We only use cacao flakes from Ecuador—due to the number of native species, Ecuador is considered the birthplace of cacao and Ecuadorian cacao is regarded by some to be the finest in the world.
newhope360: Are all of your products sourced from South America, and if so, why?
RC: Our family is from South America, and we have our own cGMP [current Good Manufacturing Practices] manufacturing facilities there, so at this moment it makes not only business sense to source from South America, but we also know the region very well. Stevia is the first of many products we will launch in the next coming years, and we will probably be venturing out to seek new botanical ingredients not only from South America but the rest of the world. As long as they can help human beings live healthier lives, we are interested!
newhope360: Most stevia is sourced from China. Is there any difference in this stevia?
RC: Most stevia comes from China. I would estimate about 90 percent or higher simply because Japan was one of the first adopters of stevia in the world. They [China] quickly ramped up production over the last 30 years and are the biggest stevia suppliers to the world. Although I have nothing against Chinese products, we feel that South American, and specifically Paraguayan stevia, has several advantages.
First, there are so many varieties of stevia that grow naturally in Paraguay that farmers can continuously improve the taste of without resorting to genetic engineering, simply by cross breeding. Also Paraguayan stevia can be harvested year around, as opposed to twice a year or so in China. We will see more and more stevia being produced in Paraguay, Kenya and other places with similar climates as it becomes more popular, but like French wine or Florida oranges, we like our Paraguayan stevia. If we ever source from China, it would probably be for ingredients used in traditional Chinese medicine.
newhope360: The United States banned stevia in the early 1990s unless it was labeled as a dietary supplement, but in 2008 approved rebaudioside A extract as a food additive. How does this affect your company?
RC: Like most companies in this industry, FDA regulations have a tremendous effect on our products. Although we would like to keep stevia as holistic as the leaf grows in nature, unfortunately to sell this product as a sweetener, we must produce a high grade extract of what is known as "stevioglycosides."
FDA requires 95 percent of stevia extracts to be stevioglycosides in order to be marketed as sweeteners. Of these, Reb-A (there are also Reb-B, Reb- C Reb-E, etc.) was identified by some researchers as the "sweet part" of stevia, and most formulators use only Reb-A 95 percent or higher. We, however, have opted to not only use Reb-A, but the entire rainbow or spectrum of stevioglycosides at 95 percent or higher in order to meet this requirement and keep as much of the plant intact as possible while meeting FDA regulations.
New studies also indicate that Reb-C or even Reb-E can offer better taste than Reb-A, so the verdict is still out. We prefer to keep working with farmers in order to achieve the best taste and holistic integrity of the plant in order to meet our customer’s needs.
As of today, the FDA requires all stevia extracts with fewer than 95 percent stevioglycosides to be labeled and marketed as dietary supplements. They are very strict on this. And since we import our product, we have opted to use the high purity extract found in our product today which is Generally Accepted as Safe (GRAS).
newhope360: You use sophisticated bilingual packaging on your products, giving equal weight to Spanish and English, which is unique. Why do you do this?
RC: The idea of doing a bilingual box must be credited to Denise Whitney at Creative Innovations. She was quick to help us adapt our stevia to the U.S. market and help us identify our own strengths as well as the benefits of targeting our fellow Hispanic customers. Once we decided that, it was just common sense to make the information we provided equally accessible to our English and Spanish customers and stakeholders.
We did not want to “dumb it down” as we often see marketers do. Our take is that both my Spanish-speaking grandma and a customer at Whole Foods should be able to benefit equally by what we are trying to offer, and we should treat everyone as the information-seeking individuals we are. Although it puts some constraints on space, we have been able to make it work and hopefully our customers, whether they speak English or Spanish, will see the benefits of our product.
We hope others will also follow this lead and help bridge the information gap that exists between Spanish and English. My sister and CEO partner, Andrea, also deserves credit for carrying this philosophy from our packaging to our booth at Expo West 2012. This is what caught the attention of [Delicious Living Food Editor] Elisa Bosley and got us the Nexty nomination that we are very proud of.
newhope360: Will Cid Botanicals be expanding into other product areas?
RC: Despite our humble beginnings, Cid Botanicals has big plans for the future. We want to help spread more nutritious and healthy foods found in our region to the rest of the world. The amazing diversity of plant life in South America cannot be ignored, and not sharing those with the world would be against our values.
However, right now we are focused on launching our stevia product line and making sure we do it right before venturing into different areas. You can expect liquid versions of our stevia as well as other user-friendly applications to come to market in the near future. One thing is clear: we will always look for science-backed health benefits in all our botanical-based products, and never shy away from the wisdom of our ancestral past, whether it’s from Asia, Europe, Africa or the Americas.
The Nexty nominations were given out in support of NEXT: The Natural Products Industry Forecast 2013, a report produced by New Hope Natural Media’s Nutrition Business Journal and Sterling Rice-Group. Available this spring, NEXT provides a deep dive into the trends and market forces driving the natural products industry today and identifies the companies, products, people and ideas that will shape tomorrow’s natural products landscape. To learn more, go to www.nextforecast.com.