ASHEVILLE, NC--(Marketwire - Feb 15, 2013) - The world's fastest-growing natural non-calorie sweetener, a leafy plant in the chrysanthemum family known as Stevia rebaudiana or just "stevia," has other lesser-known functional properties that could make stevia an important new tool in the fight against diabetes and multiple-resistant bacterial infections, among other targeted uses. Bent Creek Institute, a non-profit botanical research and sustainable economic development accelerator based at The North Carolina Arboretum, and MelStevia, Inc., a Chinese-American grower and developer of nutraceutical-grade stevia products, have engaged to develop stevia in a vertical pipeline that includes horticultural research, commercial farming, and bulk standardized extract manufacturing in the mountains of Western North Carolina. "International herbal products companies are coming to North Carolina in greater numbers to source, grow, and develop science-backed botanical products for human and animal wellness," said Greg Cumberford, president of Bent Creek Institute. "Bent Creek Institute exists to make Western North Carolina a go-to region in the world for botanical natural products development, and the MelStevia project provides another example of North Carolina's real value at the interface between sustainable agriculture and global nutraceutical development."
The worldwide market for stevia is growing explosively at over 300 percent per year and already exceeded $285 million and 3,500 tons annual demand in 2010. Industry projections call for over 11,000 tons by 2014 to satisfy consumer demand. Most stevia, sold in stores and on-line in crude herb and fluid or powdered extract forms, is consumed as a non-calorie and non-glycemic sweetener under trade names like Truvia and SweetLeaf. Stevia is also used as an ingredient in a range of foods and beverages as a natural alternative to synthetic non-calorie sweeteners. However, despite stevia's rapidly increasing popularity in foods and beverages, very little research on optimizing stevia horticulturally for quality control specifications in nutraceutical applications has occurred, thus no internationally-recognized grading standards exist for quality in all of the various phytochemical constituents of stevia. "MelStevia is excited about the opportunity to strategically align with Bent Creek Institute in order to help leverage the tremendous amount of knowledge capital available in this region," said William Tien, President of MelStevia. "We are fortunate to have the ability to collaborate with a specialized agribusiness network capable of providing the marketplace with the highest quality standards in an executable timeframe." Bent Creek Institute and MelStevia, which already controls and manages over 12,000 acres of stevia production in China and Inner Mongolia and has two production factories Shandong and Wuxi provinces, will begin working with WNC regional non-profit botanical research and development partners to grow various nutraceutical grades of stevia under controlled horticultural trials starting in Spring of 2013 and test resulting extracts of the harvested materials for their beneficial photochemistry. Bent Creek Institute will also assist in securing agricultural research and economic development related grants for this project.