Has the approval of any other single ingredient caused more of a stir in the industry than the US Food & Drug Administration's decision to confer Generally Recognised as Safe status on stevia extract Reb A?

Since the FDA's decision was announced in December, barely a week has gone by without news of a new initiative in the industry designed to harness the appeal of this all-natural, zero-calorie sweetener in the food and beverage sector.

The latest is a venture between China-based stevia supplier Sunwin International Neutraceuticals and ingredients and flavours producer WILD Flavors, which has its headquarters in Kentucky.

The two companies have finalised an agreement to sell, market, and distribute Sunwin International's stevia extracts and formulate proprietary, natural sweetening blends for food and beverage products. The deal involves WILD taking a $3 million equity stake in Sunwin, which will be used to fund expansion of Sunwin's Reb A production capacity.

In a statement, WILD said: "As other ingredient companies and consumer packaged goods firms are simply aligning supply streams of stevia, WILD Flavors has taken a bigger and bolder step by significantly investing in Sunwin International, one of the top worldwide suppliers of stevia."

The company said it expected to "quickly commercialise many new and innovative product concepts and offerings with current customers for immediate entry in the market and opening doors to new clients for access to zero-calorie, natural sweetening systems".

Chief operating officer Kevin Gavin added: "Our customers have consistently recognised the value of utilising high quality natural ingredients in the development of food and beverage products and have expressed great interest in stevia-based sweetening solutions. We have experienced tremendous success in responding to our customers' needs, and investing in Sunwin International will allow for continued leadership and innovation in the industry.

"WILD Flavors' taste modification technologies, such as Resolver and FruitUp, will enable us to create natural sweetening systems and blends to meet our customers' expected needs for functionality but exemplify great taste."

President of Sunwin International's US subsidiary Jeff Reynolds said: "We strongly believe that the partnership with WILD Flavors will provide a competitive advantage by developing stevia-based solutions that create superior tasting products."

The deal follows news of a partnership forged in January by Reb A suppler PureCircle and flavours specialist Firmenich. Under the terms of the collaboration, the two companies will combine to offer natural flavour and sweetening solutions to food and beverage manufacturers.