Imperial Sugar Company (ISC) recently announced that it has signed a supply agreement with Amax NutraSource, Inc. for Luo Han Guo, or monk fruit extract—a natural, low-calorie, high-intensity alternative to the sweeteners that are currently available in the marketplace.
This supply agreement follows the launch earlier this summer of ISC’s NatureWise™ Sweeteners brand of products that were introduced to respond to the growing demand from food manufacturers and retailers for great tasting, all-natural, low caloric sweeteners to replace artificial ingredients currently being used. With the debut of NatureWise™ Monk Fruit Sweetener, it became imperative that ISC secure a reliable source of high-quality monk fruit.
“As we continue to create innovative new alternatives to high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, partnering with reputable suppliers of high quality ingredients becomes paramount to the company’s continued growth and success,” said John Sheptor, President and CEO of Imperial Sugar Company.
Oregon-based Amax NutraSource has been involved in the dietary supplement industry since 1995 and has gone on to achieve great success as a leading supplier of botanical extracts, including monk fruit. It has been a pioneer in the standardization of extracts and has led the way in bringing a scientific rigor to the extraction and formulation processes in the industry. Amax offers a full line of natural sweeteners, a complete line of certified organic vegetable concentrates and over 20 different varieties of tea extracts.
Imperial Sugar has partnered with Amax due to the suppliers exclusive contract with a Chinese manufacturer of FDA GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) approved monk fruit. Amax is one of only two distributors of FDA GRAS approved monk fruit in the U.S.
“It is a privilege to be selected as supplier for Imperial Sugar’s new Monk Fruit Sweetener,” stated Larry Martinez, President of Amax NutraSource, Inc. “With their patented compound crystallization process and the tremendous support and technology from our valued partnership in China, I believe Imperial Sugar will bring an exciting lower calorie sweetener to the market which consumers have been demanding.”
Monk Fruit is an intensely sweet fruit grown on steep mountainsides primarily in the Guangxi Province in the People’s Republic of China. Thomas Rathke, Senior Director Engineering and Specialty Sales for ISC, notes that monk fruit contains a sweetness and flavor profile similar to sugar and, therefore, has the potential to be much more widely accepted for its sweetening properties than other natural products currently available. “The market opportunities for monk fruit are tremendous as manufacturers of beverages and functional foods continue to seek alternatives to traditional, artificial sweeteners,” said Rathke.
he fruit has been used for centuries in Asia but in the 1990’s Procter & Gamble patented a process for the extraction of Mogrosides, specifically Mogroside V, which is the compound in the fruit which is intensely sweet. At that time, Amax NutraSource was selected as the exclusive distributor of P & G’s patented monk fruit product and well as their patented green tea extract.
For regulatory reasons, the patented monk fruit extraction was produced in a concentrated liquid form which contained a content of 2-4 percent Mogroside V. Over the past ten years, Amax NutraSource’s partner in China has developed technology to produce a dry extract concentrate containing significantly higher levels of Mogroside V content , including a 55 percent Mogroside V Monk Fruit Extract which was submitted to the FDA in its GRAS application. This extract is approximately 220 times sweeter than sugar, is much more user friendly as a sweetener than earlier versions of the extract, and contains the highest Mogroside V content of the two FDA GRAS approved monk fruit extracts on the market.
Steve Light, Business Development Manager for Amax NutraSource, notes that GRAS approval by the FDA was necessary for the powder to gain acceptance by the food industry. This recognition is critical to food and beverage manufacturers because it indicates the product is safe as a food additive.
Only two manufacturers in China, where monk fruit is grown, have received GRAS approval. Amax is aligned with one of these manufacturers and has worked with this company for the past 13 years.
Gail Lange, who oversees new business development for ISC, is currently working with food scientists and technologists with a wide variety of food and beverage manufacturers to test the Monk Fruit Sweetener in their products.
When asked about the possibility of working with Amax to develop new sweeteners for the market, Lange responds that the company brings another level to the partnership that goes beyond just a supplier. “Amax has established a core group of ingredients which ISC is interested in using like anti-oxidants and the company has the ability to demonstrate functionality of these ingredients and work with ISC to possibly bring new innovations to the market,” said Lange.
In addition to the agreement, ISC is working on several initiatives with Amax. They will be joining the company at its booth at the Supply Side West Expo in Las Vegas in early October. ISC will be demonstrating its monk fruit product at the booth and will feature food items made with the sweetener. There is also discussion about working together to do some promotional webinars and other promotions to show how monk fruit can be used in different applications.