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‘Father Of Stevia’ Dies At 80

James May
James May

Last updated on June 14th, 2024 at 09:15 am

The man known as the “Father of Stevia,” Mr. James A. May Sr., has died. He was 80 years old.

Mr. May was the founder and CEO of Wisdom Natural Brands, makers of SweetLeaf Stevia Sweetener, and is widely recognized for his contributions to the natural and organic sweetener industry, including being the first to bring stevia to the U.S. in 1982.

According to his wife, Carol May, president of Gilbert, Arizona-based Wisdom Natural Brands, Mr. May was integral in helping lift the FDA ban on importing stevia by meeting with Congress in 1994. This meeting would eventually result in DSHEA, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. His brand, SweetLeaf, was the first stevia product to receive FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status in March 2008. Mr. May’s passion and laser-focused journey to share and promote the healthful benefits of stevia have resulted in the worldwide launch of better-for-the-body sweeteners with no sugar, no calories and no artificial ingredients, according to his obituary. Mr. May started his business in his garage in Scottsdale and today SweetLeaf products are sold throughout North America in natural and conventional grocery stores, online retailers and in 30 countries.SweetLeaf-logo_zpsbardlfmt

Mr. May received many accolades for his application of the stevia plant as a nutritional supplement and a sugar alternative, including an award from the president of Paraguay. This award was a visible sign of gratitude and recognition for successfully launching stevia as a natural, zero-calorie, zero-carbohydrate sweetener. Stevia has contributed to the growth of the global sweetener market as the demand for sugar alternatives continues to grow. Latin American economies have benefited from Mr. May’s contributions to the nearly billion-dollar industry, his obituary says.

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) awarded Mr. May the 2011 AHPA Visionary Award. AHPA, which promotes the responsible commerce of herbal products, presented him with the award in recognition of unwavering, persistent dedication in the advancement of all-natural stevia. Inspired by Mr. May’s perseverance during his lifetime of work bringing stevia to the U.S. and advancing it as a sweetener, AHPA created the award especially to honor him. Mr. May also received two awards for lifetime achievement from international stevia organizations.

Additionally, Mr. May was presented the Visionary Leadership Award by the Specialty Food Association in 2015. The association’s award honors members who have gone above and beyond in advancing food standards in society—and society itself—by creating social, economic and environmental impact through innovation and vision.

During Natural Products Expo West 2016, Mr. May and his wife were inducted into the Hall of Legends during a ceremony in Anaheim, California. This honor recognizes achievements of leaders and innovators who have made an enduring impact on the advancement of the natural products industry.

Over the past few years, Wisdom Natural Brands has built the infrastructure and leadership team to continue the mission Mr. May began 35 years ago. In that time, the company grew from a small Arizona business to an international company honored with the U.S. President’s “E” Award for its significant contributions to the increase of U.S. exports.

For Mr. May, according to his obituary, SweetLeaf was an important part of his belief that stevia could bring about significant changes to the way people eat and encourage a healthier relationship with food; Mr. May truly was motivated by bringing about a greater good for all and always sought to do the right thing in business and in life.

A family-owned and operated company, Wisdom Natural Brands and SweetLeaf will continue to be led by the family leadership team of Carol May, president, and son Michael P. May, Ph.D., COO, as well as the executive and sales teams.

About the author

Shelby Team

The Shelby Report delivers complete grocery news and supermarket insights nationwide through the distribution of five monthly regional print and digital editions. Serving the retail food trade since 1967, The Shelby Report is “Region Wise. Nationwide.”

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