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Beverage makers eager to release soft drinks with naturally-derived, zero-calorie Stevia

BY Melissa Valliant

ATLANTA and, PURCHASE, N.Y. Diet beverages may undergo an ingredient makeover within the next few months as a new sweetener called stevia hits the market. Stevia contains no calories or carbohydrates and has a glycemic index of zero.

The sweetener, which originates from a Latin American plant, has been marketed for years as a food and beverage additive as well as a stand-alone sweetener in outside countries, including Brazil, South Korea and Japan. It was introduced to the U.S. in the 80s, but the FDA limited it to a dietary supplement in 1995. Now the FDA is making moves to permit its use in food and beverages.

Naturally, both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have jumped on the opportunity to use a sweetener with natural origins and zero calories in their products and are currently in talks with the FDA. So far, Wisdom Natural Brands’ SweetLeaf stevia sweetener is leading the stevia brand, according to a new Packaged Facts study, and is currently the only stevia product with the FDA’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) label, which assures consumers that competent scientific research has found the product to be safe.

Coke and Cargill have teamed up to sell their own version of stevia, called Truvia, as a tabletop sweetener, and the Wall Street Journal has reported that Coke may introduce a new beverage containing Truvia within the next few months. PepsiCo has followed similar steps and joined forces with Whole Earth Sweetener Company to create a stevia-based tabletop sweetener called PureVia. Both Coke/Cargill and PepsiCo/Whole Earth Sweetener Company have filed requests for a GRAS label in May with the FDA, which has 180 days to respond.

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Former White House chef and Sara Lee release White House-worthy sandwich ideas

BY Melissa Valliant

DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. Craving a meal fit for a king? Chef Louis Eguaras may not have cooked for royalty, but, as a former White House chef, he prepared meals for President George Bush Sr. and is now joining forces with Sara Lee Deli to bring the White House cuisine to your home.

The two encourage Americans to celebrate Nov. 3’s National Sandwich Day, which coincidentally shares the date with the eve of the 2008 presidential election. Sara Lee Deli has posted two recipes inspired by both Obama and McCain’s favorite foods at www.thejoyofeating.com, Check out the a-vote-cado and turkey; red, white and blue inaugural; and the bi-partisan panini.

Eguaras recommends sandwich-makers use Sara Lee Deli to aid them in their sandwich creations for the night of Nov. 3, and suggests Sara Lee Fresh Ideas sandwich dressings. The condiments are sold in small, single-serve packets that allows you to wait until the last minute to apply, sparing you a soggy sandwich.

Sara Lee Deli is also releasing four new deli meats comprising pre-sliced Sara Lee Fresh Ideas Garlic herb Chicken and Hickory Smoked Ham, as well as deli-available Sara Lee Fresh Ideas Virginia Brand Ham with Natural Juices and Deluxe Cooked Ham with Natural Juices.

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PepsiCo returns focus to soft drinks

BY Jenna Duncan

NEW YORK PepsiCo is directing attention back to its soft drink brands, to try to beef up declining sales, the company has said. Starting in 2009, the company will kick off a round of new promotions and try alternative approaches to marketing its carbonated drinks, spokespersons have said.

Pepsi will make an extended commitment to redirect money and attention to its soft drinks over the next several years, The New York Times last week reported.

Carbonated beverage sales have dropped in the United States, and Pepsi has seen a decline. Its Aquafina bottled water business has also been hit with lagging sales, despite the strong sales of its overseas business and strong sales of its Frito-Lay snack products.

Pepsi’s biggest rival, Coca-Cola, has announced in lieu of the drop in soft drink sales that it would be raising prices on its soft drinks.

The U.S. beverage segment reported 1 percent revenue growth in the second quarter of 2008, but volume dropped by 1 percent, according to reports in The Times. PepsiCo’s individual shares fell by 2.9 percent, or $1.72, on Friday to $57.80 per share.

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