Stevia First Corp., an early-stage agribusiness based in California's Central Valley growing region and focused on the industrial scale production of stevia, the all-natural zero-calorie sweetener that is rapidly transforming the food and beverage industry, is pleased to advise that the Company has entered into an exclusive and worldwide intellectual property license with the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre of Ontario, Canada.
The license encompasses compositions and methods for producing steviol and steviol glycosides through fermentation-based production methods. In addition to the license, Stevia First has entered into a separate consulting agreement with Vineland to assist with further development of the underlying intellectual property.
Today, production of stevia extract involves a complex agricultural supply chain servicing a sector that includes approximately 75,000 acres of stevia plant reportedly being grown overseas in 2010. It is currently estimated that 70 percent or more of the cost of stevia extract is directly attributable to the cost of stevia leaf production. Because the stevia leaf contains small quantities of the most desirable sweet components, complex extraction and purification processes must be used, adding to the cost, and yet still, many stevia extracts today do not meet the standards for taste and consistency that consumers demand.
Canadian researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) were among the first to discover and characterize the natural biochemical pathways that are involved in the production of the sweet components of the stevia leaf. Using this knowledge, it has become possible to produce stevia extract through fermentation-based technologies. These methods are capable of converting low-cost plant materials into sweet steviol glycosides through controlled fermentation methods, a process that could bypass or significantly diminish the need for stevia leaf production. Vineland currently controls intellectual property related to this technology.
Through a worldwide license to Stevia First by Vineland, the Company will have exclusive rights to an intellectual property portfolio derived from a patent titled, "Compositions and methods for producing steviol and steviol glycosides." Stevia First is commencing fermentation-based stevia development efforts at its Yuba City, Calif., facility, which first involve process optimization studies and completion of pilot-scale stevia extract production.
Dr. Jim Brandle, CEO of Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, states that, "We're very pleased to move this technology closer to the market via this license with Stevia First. In addition to advancing this technology, this partnership will enable Vineland to make further investments in horticultural research." Stevia First Corp.'s CEO, Robert Brooke, adds that, "In the stevia industry, which has grown tremendously over the past several years, there is still significant unmet demand from multinational companies for a supply chain that can consistently produce great-tasting stevia extract in large quantities. The technology we've licensed represents a potential solution for this need, and one that our scientific team is eager to commercialize."