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Augusta plant producing new stevia sweetener touted as environmentally friendly



AUGUSTA, Ga. – Production has begun in Augusta for a new zero-calorie stevia sweetener that its makers say uses green technology and reduces its environmental footprint.

Biotechnology company Manus Bio – which reopened the former NutraSweet factory on Lovers Lane in 2019 – unveiled its NutraSweet Natural brand Thursday, which its creators say tastes “just like sugar.”

Manus Bio increased production capacity last fall by hiring more than 20 new employees to aid in making the new sweetener, according to Heather Barbarino, the company’s vice president of marketing.

The sweetener’s “good for you and good for the planet” aspect is being emphasized, “which means there’ll be a lot of up-fitting and new equipment being put in,” Barbarino said Friday. “Things like that are going to make it possible for us to scale up to create new products and then continue with the production here. So it’s going to really be, I think, a great thing for Augusta.”

Stevia, a plant native to South America, contains dozens of elements that provide different levels of sweetness, she said. Many other stevia-based sweeteners rely on an extracted glycoside called Rebaudioside A, or Reb A, which gives those sweeteners a characteristic lingering aftertaste that many users describe as bitter.

NutraSweet Natural uses the extract Reb M, which appears less in stevia but more closely mirrors sugar and leaves no aftertaste.

Because it’s “sweet, but not overly sweet,” smaller amounts can be used to sweeten beverages, Barbarino said. It’s also touted as “friendly” to people with diabetes and people adhering to keto and paleo diets.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a staggering 49% of all Americans have tried to lose weight in the past year,” said Brendan Naulty, Manus Bio’s president of sweeteners and natural ingredients, in a statement released Thursday. “We are proud to be able to offer a unique next-generation zero-calorie sweetener that allows us to indulge in sweetness while maintaining lifestyle goals.”

NutraSweet Natural also is “all-natural” and environmentally friendly, Barbarino said.

“We’re looking at ways in which we can do less impact on the environment and improve where the footprint is, and we think with the technology we have through the fermentation it really helps not to destroy the land or need excessive amounts of land,” she said.

The product is available for purchase online and is expected to hit retail shelves in six months or less, Barbarino said. Future iterations of NutraSweet Natural will make it easier to use for baking.

“We’ve been working on perfecting and running the lines and running tests. They’ve been, we’ll say ‘in production,’ for about three months now, but that was making sure the blend was perfect before we went to launch,” she said.

Manus Bio’s Augusta facility has about 110 employees.