Imperial Sugar Company CEO and President John Sheptor confidently says that the company’s newly created sweet alternative, steviacane (tm) “will change the way that consumers look at sweet things in home baking and home beverage needs.”
At the recent announcement of the new product that Sheptor is credited for naming, he told guests of a Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce hosted event that this is “a momentous point in history.” After all, the product roll out was formally made public at the launching of Imperial Sugar Company’ s new future in of all places, Sugar Land, “the city’s birthplace of the company,” said the CEO. But that’s not the only reason the product launch represents a significant chapter for the sugar company. Under Sheptor’s lead, the company is heading full steam ahead with intentions of expanding its portfolio with additional sweeteners.
Sheptor, who grew up in a small village of Lancaster, New Hampshire, with a population of 3,000, has been Chief Executive Officer and President of the sugar company since January 2008. He first served as its Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President before his ascent to the top job of the $1 billion revenue sugar producing company, whose market capital is $160 million. Since being at the helm of the sugar company for three years now, he said his primary focus has been developing and implementing new strategies. At the recent unveiling of the steviacane product, Sheptor said that the company, which has over 600 employees, is embarking on one of those over the next two to three years.
“We have been investing in a line of organic sweetener products under the Wholesome Sweeteners brand,” showing a 30 percent growth yearly over the last 10 years. The company’s leadership philosophy and function is to inspire its workforce as it follows the company’s development, he explains, and he also maintains that it is important to create an environment of passion for the services and products provided to customers for a win-win outcome.
The latest new product of the corporate sugar producing giant represents a compounded combination of both sugar from pure cane sugar and pure stevia, related to the carnation family plant. “We invented steviacane in March 2010,” Sheptor said, noting that stevia alone has no calories, is approximately 300 times sweeter than sugar, and has no glycemic index, although by itself it has challenges. Alone, stevia only brings a sweet taste, but when this high intensity ingredient is combined with sugar, Sheptor said it is able to hold moisture and it browns.
The new tastes-like-sugar steviacane, “is the only stevia product you can bake with,” and “there’s a secret to all this,” he said. As a result of a crystallization process, “we have eliminated a bad aftertaste and produced a product that is twice as sweet.” With approximately one third of the calories of sugar, steviacane now complements Imperial Sugar Company’s line of sweeteners.
“In the last 5 years we’ve seen a very strong interest globally for stevia as a sweetener,” Sheptor said. “What we have done with our partner, Pure Circle, the producer of the stevia extract, is to bring two natural sweeteners together in this product, steviacane, to give consumers the attributes of both products.”
The new sugar product’s extract—stevia, which is fused with raw sugar, comes from the plant’s leaves, where the natural sugars lie. The plant was found in the South American country of Paraguay and Sheptor said that indigenous people there, who used the “sweet leaf” as chewing gum, have consumed it for centuries. Today, stevia is grown in 15 countries and Imperial Sugar partners with the largest stevia processor in the world.
In the next few months, steviacane will be available throughout the U.S., even through Amazon.com. H.E. B., which is one of Imperial Sugar Company’s partners in Texas, placed it on its shelves in November along with the company’s other new products.
The Imperial Sugar Company is found on Facebook, where a free sample of steviacane may be requested by going to the company’s page. “Use it every way that you have used sugar in the past,” advises Sheptor, and “get the same sugar taste, the same sweetness level with half as much as the sugar.”
“We are the oldest continuing sugar company in the state of Texas,” he said, and that “gives us a very important role in the state and we uphold the values and integrities the company has had over the 160 plus history.” The major U.S. sugar producing company has been in Fort Bend County since 1843. It’s what accounts for Sugar Land’s name and its city seal with the Imperial Sugar Company’s crown displayed in its logo.
A resident of Sugar Land, Sheptor offices at the company’s headquarters on U.S. 90A, although since 2003, the Imperial Sugar Company no longer refines sugar at the original plant, a site now destined for a new future, itself. Sheptor also has an office in Port Wentworth, Georgia, where operations are continuing to be maintained at a huge refinery, in addition to those in Gramercy, Louisiana, and through a joint venture, he said the company now has locations in Mexico. He also said that Imperial Sugar continues to own the Holly brand and uses it in a few applications.
With an eye towards the future, the company intends to continue to research and develop additional natural sweetener, organic alternatives to establish itself as a leader as one of North America’s premier sweetener companies. Sheptor said steviacane is the first step, and the company has now begun “providing solutions to consumers to support their interests for healthier food.”
You can have the remarkable traits of reduced calories with the great taste of sugar and other attributes, and get it all naturally, said Sheptor. “In the end of the day, the consumer votes for taste.”
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