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Tate & Lyle and Cryptobiotix’s breakthrough ex-vivo* study shows that sucralose does not impact the gut microbiota, while other low and no calorie sweeteners have potentially beneficial health effects

A new, first-of-its-kind study has identified unique and potentially beneficial interactions between certain low and no calorie sweeteners, including stevia, and the human gut microbiota. Tate & Lyle PLC, a world leader in ingredient solutions for healthier food and drink, partnered with Cryptobiotix, pioneers in preclinical gastrointestinal research, on the study.

Dr. Davide Risso, molecular biology specialist and Tate & Lyle’s Head of Nutrition Research, led the project to explore the potential impact of certain low and no calorie sweeteners on the gut environment in both healthy individuals and those with type 2 diabetes. The research involved taking samples from co-living adults consuming a similar diet – to lower the potential variation introduced by differences in long-term diet, a major driver of microbiota composition. The doses of low and no calorie sweeteners used were based on actual intakes, regulations and amounts that are generally included in foods and beverages during different timepoints.

Results from the pre-clinical study, published in the leading peer reviewed, open-access journal the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, found that some of the studied low calorie and no calorie sweeteners had no impact on the gut microbiota, while others had potential beneficial health effects.

Using Cryptobiotix’s cutting-edge SIFR® (“cipher”) technology to recreate the gut environment outside of the human body, the research partners found that sweeteners, such as sucralose, do not impact the microbial composition of the gut. Furthermore, other sweeteners, including stevia, have a beneficial impact on the gut microbiota as they were found to be easily fermented and increase the density of certain health-supporting bacteria, with the production of short-chain fatty acids.

The study adds to the strong scientific evidence demonstrating the beneficial role low and no calorie sweeteners can play when used as a part of a balanced diet. Assessments of additional low and no calorie sweeteners, including allulose and erythritol, are being completed and details will be shared in due course.

Dr. Davide Risso, Tate & Lyle’s Head of Nutrition Research, said:
“In this study, the low and no calorie sweeteners we have assessed are shown to have either no impact on the gut microbiota or to offer potential health benefits beyond their established sugar and calorie reduction benefits. Human clinical trials will be required to confirm the potential health benefits. At Tate & Lyle, we’re committed to advancing understanding around the role of low and no calorie sweeteners in the diet and sharing knowledge in this emerging field as a purpose-led, science-driven company.”

Dr Pieter Van den Abbeele, Cryptobiotix’s Chief Scientific Officer, said:
“Cryptobiotix was founded with the ambition of providing accurate insights into the impact and behaviour of ingredients in relation to the gut microbiome. This study provides much-needed evidence to consider the potential benefits of sweeteners individually, rather than as a uniform whole. The robustness and validation work that went into the SIFR® technology used, allowed us to pinpoint specific health-promoting pathways in relation to specific low and no calorie sweeteners.”

*In ex vivo studies, living tissues are directly taken from a living organism and studied in a laboratory with minimal alterations to the organism’s natural conditions.

Royal Unibrew A/S announced the closing of the acquisition of Vrumona, the second largest soft drink company in the Netherlands, from Heineken. Vrumona is located near Utrecht and employs more than 300 people. The company has a strong portfolio of own brands and partner brands supporting the health and sustainability agenda.

Lars Jensen, CEO of Royal Unibrew A/S, states: “I am happy to welcome the dedicated and talented people from Vrumona to the Royal Unibrew family. We are eager to onboard the strong organisation and get started on the exiting journey to establish the company as a multi-beverage platform in Central Europe that will deliver organic earnings growth for years to come.”

As previously announced, Royal Unibrew A/S is acquiring 100 % of Vrumona at an enterprise value of EUR 300 million on a debt free basis. In 2022, Vrumona realised net revenue of EUR 200 million and an EBITDA of around EUR 25 million, resulting in an acquisition multiple (EV/EBITDA) of 12x.

The acquisition is expected to be EPS accretive in 2024, and ROIC on the acquisition is expected to exceed WACC within three years.

Vrumona fits very well into Royal Unibrew A/S’ operating model of strong local businesses with strong local brands with its solid positions in On-Trade and Off-Trade. The company has been a front runner in creating healthy and functional beverages for years for which reason the majority of its business is within the no/low sugar and calories segment. With the acquisition, Royal Unibrew A/S establish a new growth platform and expand its geographical footprint while the company also expand its longstanding relationship with PepsiCo as Vrumona is operating the full beverage portfolio from PepsiCo on a license agreement in a partnership dating back to 1949.

The Vrumona production facility in Bunnik includes seven lines with a current annual output of around 3.1 million hectoliters. The production facility is in a good condition; however, additional long-term investments are needed to improve efficiency as well as to expand capabilities and capacities. It is therefore expected that it will take some years before the platform is able to exploit its full organic growth potential.

As Chinese consumers are more focused on healthier beverages compared to their US counterparts, the country is witnessing a significant rise in consumer low-calorie soft drinks. Low-calorie soft drinks volumes increased at a triple-digit rate in China between 2019-2022, while the volumes grew by only 10 % in the US, finds GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Global Data forecasts that in China, the volumes of low-calorie beverages will record a positive growth rate of 11.3 % in 2023, while in the US, it will be 2.2 %, albeit the US soft drinks market is much more mature and developed. The low-calorie market share in the soft drinks sector was 17 % in the US in 2022, while it was 2.4 % in China.

Dragos Dumitrachi, Consumer Analyst at GlobalData, comments: The carbonates category is the biggest winner regarding the growth of low-calorie beverages. Major brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi are continuing to invest in low-calorie variants and the trend is picking up globally. In China, low-calorie volumes are forecast to increase by 13.1 % in 2023, while the US will record a minimal 1.5 % rise in volume. “Since 2019, boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the health trend in the soft drinks sector has accelerated across the globe. In 2022, the world saw China and the US clash on multiple fronts. In the soft drinks consumer market, a similar opposing evolution scenario is taking place between the two countries.”

The carbonates category is the biggest winner regarding the growth of low-calorie beverages. Major brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi are continuing to invest in low-calorie variants and the trend is picking up globally. In China, low-calorie volumes are forecast to increase by 13.1 % in 2023, while the US will record a minimal 1.5 % rise in volume.

According to a recent GlobalData consumer survey*, when asked which feature consumers are actively looking for when making a purchase, a significantly higher proportion of Chinese consumers (49 %) said it is essential for the product to be good for physical fitness/health, while in the US, only 29 % find it essential.

Dumitrachi concludes: “This data shows that since the outbreak of the pandemic, whilst both markets show a high level of innovation towards low-calorie launches, Chinese consumers are more concerned about making informed health decisions within the beverage space in comparison to US consumers. Manufacturers in China and the US are set to increase the number of launches to capitalise on this trend throughout 2023.”

*GlobalData Q3 2022 Consumer Survey – China consisted of 532 respondents