Nairobi — British food ingredients firm, PureCircle, has entered into a joint venture agreement with tea and flower grower James Finlay for the long-term development of stevia plantations and the building of an extraction plant in Kenya.
The company is the world's leading producer of Reb-A, a natural, zero-calorie high intensity sweetener extracted from the Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni plant.
Through the agreement, PureCircle has committed $20 million for the venture, of which an estimated $15 million has been allocated to the crude stevia extraction plant and the balance to the development of plantations and associated working capital.
PureCircle develops and manufactures natural food ingredients for the global food and beverage industry.
Reb-A is often used instead of sugar because it provides consumers with various health benefits including having no calorific content and a low glycemic index, making it suitable for consumption by diabetics.
PureCircle holds the proprietary process technology for the extraction of the substance from stevia.
According to analysts, Reb-A is in increasing demand from international food and beverage companies, including multinationals such as Coca Cola, largely because of mounting concerns about the health implications of increased sugar consumption.
Last December, PureCircle raised money through the issuance of shares to investors to fund expansion of its Reb-A extraction operations.
The entry of James Finlays into the growing of stevia in East Africa will broaden the company's commercial crop base in the region, which currently comprises mostly tea and flowers. The company has tea plantations in Kenya and Uganda as well as Sri Lanka, where it grows and processes over 45 million kilogrammes of black and green teas every year.
In Kenya, Finlays also grows about 100 hectares of flowers in greenhouses on four sites, including three diverse growing locations at Kericho, Londiani and Koru in the Rift Valley.
Last year, it harvested over 80 million stems of roses from these farms, which were mostly exported to Europe.
In Uganda, Finlays, formerly known as the Rwenzori Highlands Tea Company, is the largest single producer of black tea, responsible for over a quarter of the country's tea exports.
The company now has over 3,600 hectares of tea spread along the Rwenzori mountain range, and produces in excess of 10 million kilogrammes of tea every year from the five separate locations of Bugambe, Muzizi, Kiko, Mwenge and Ankole.
Finlays is a wholly owned subsidiary of John Swire and Sons Ltd, also of Britain.