“…But the founders of Seattle-based Zevia, a year-old soda company, are encouraging Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi devotees to cheat on their beloveds.
It takes about one can to get hooked, explained Ian Eisenberg, one of three founders. Zevia’s Cola has 45 milligrams of caffeine — comparable to a can of Diet Coke.
In the race to put an all-natural, zero-calorie soft drink on the market, Zevia has beaten the beverage giants. Zevia, which comes in four flavors, is sweetened with stevia.
Stevia is a natural sweetener emerging into U.S. consumer consciousness. It is extracted from the stevia herb, native to the South American rain forest. Its leaf tastes like honeysuckle.
Stevia competes with artificial sweeteners and sugar. The sweetener wars — saccharin as Sweet’N Low, sucralose as Splenda, aspartame as NutraSweet and Equal, sugar as itself — are well-documented and have left consumers confused.
“People are looking for a natural diet soda,” said Jessica Newman, another founder.
Newman is a marathoner who would pump her body full of Diet Coke after a workout, according to her husband and business partner, Derek Newman.
Says Jessica Newman, “There’s a reason Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi don’t have a lot of competition. We are on a crusade to get people to kick the diet soda habit.”
Zevia has developed a devout following: People who order a $24 case of 24 cans online have to pay another $24 for shipping — and they do it. The company gets about 30 online orders per day.
….Native people in Paraguay and Brazil use stevia to sweeten hot teas. And stevia has been used in Japan since the early 1970s to sweeten foods. But the Food and Drug Administration has turned down companies that asked to add it to foods here. Stevia fans say that the FDA has banned the plant extract under pressure from the artificial sweetener industry.
Stevia products, including Zevia, are now sold as dietary supplements, a class of food and vitamins over which the FDA has less control.
Studies on the benefits and weaknesses of stevia haven’t been widespread, and mostly focus on large doses given to rats, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Zevia may soon face huge competition. In May, Cargill and Coca-Cola Co. made a stevia product named Truvia. The companies say that their research submitted to the FDA proves that Truvia is safe.
Atlanta-based Coca-Cola could market a beverage containing stevia by the end of this year, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this month.
Also this summer, PepsiCo and Merisant Co. introduced PureVia as a sweetener. Pepsi plans to sell a drink containing the sweetener in Peru. Purchase, N.Y.-based Pepsi also plans to release PureVia tabletop sweetener into the U.S. market this fall.
Both Coke and Pepsi appear to be waiting on FDA approval to sell stevia in a soft drink.
Zevia is sold nationwide in about 900 stores. It sells alongside other types of sodas, even though it’s classified as a dietary supplement, not a food product. The restrictions mean that Zevia cannot claim to be a soft drink and cannot declare zero calories. Thus, a Zevia can says, “A dietary supplement is not permitted to disclose the amount of calories, carbs, fat, when there is zero. For that reason, Zevia does not disclose them.”
The company is privately held and backed by its founders and angel investors.
Stevia is a sugar substitute with no calories, no fat and no carbohydrates. It comes from a South American tropical plant, and has been used in South America and Asia as a sweetener for hot teas. The FDA considers it safe as a dietary supplement but not as a food product — a designation that critics have called confusing.
Source: P-I research