The Plant Pathways Company, a plant breeding company specializing in improving crops, with a focus on food and medicinal plants, announced Thursday the opening of research and development facility in Sanford. This project, a partnership between Plant Pathways, North Carolina State University, and other private industry leaders, will conduct innovative research with the goal of replacing sugar with stevia, a natural sweetener and sugar substitute, in soft drinks.

The research and development facilities, located at 1042 Dalrymple Farm Road in Sanford, currently grows stevia in roughly 1,000 square feet of greenhouses, and 40 to 45 acres of field space. The Plant Pathways Company was formed as a result of eight years of breeding, genetics, agronomic, biochemistry, and consumer sciences research at NCSU and PepsiCo.

The three founders of the company, Gabe Gusmini, Todd Wehner and Mercedes Murua, bring a combined 85 years of experience in corporate and academic crop improvement, and utilize 10 employees, with three open positions, plus an active board of directors and advisors with four highly experienced entrepreneurs and executives from agriculture and finance.

“We are very enthusiastic about establishing our HQ and core R&D facility in Sanford. For us founders, this new adventure is the peak of our careers,” said Plant Pathways CEO and Co-Founder Gabe Gusmini. “We got involved in plant breeding with a common goal: making a difference in securing nutritious food for everyone, regardless of where they live or who they are.  When it comes to making a big difference in nutritional content, we truly believe that nothing can be more impactful than getting sugar and artificial sweeteners out of the picture.”

Local leaders reacted positively to the news.

“Congratulations to Gabe, Todd, Mercedes, and all involved with The Plant Pathways Company on this announcement. The city of Sanford is thrilled to welcome an organization so dedicated to groundbreaking research and development,” said Sanford Mayor Chet Mann. “Our community has become a hub of innovative companies, and Plant Pathways’ work is the epitome of innovation. Their decision to join our community reemphasizes the effectiveness of our Open for Business Agenda, as well as the importance of our proximity and partnerships with industry-leading research institutions. Best wishes and welcome to Sanford.”

“Lee County’s history in agriculture is as rich as its soil, and we welcome ‘Plant Pathways Company’ for choosing our community to conduct their incredible, industry-changing research,” said Kirk Smith, chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners.  “Congratulations to the entire Plant Pathways team – we look forward to seeing tremendous benefits and future opportunities for our agricultural community.”

“The Sanford Area Growth Alliance whole-heartedly welcomes The Plant Pathways Company to the Sanford-Lee County community,” said April Montgomery, chair of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance. “We are fortunate to live in an area where both public and private sectors work together to the benefit of our citizens, and we could not be happier that Plant Pathways has chosen to join our family of local businesses.”

“Building on its agrarian history and culture, this project demonstrates the potential of a new and exciting agricultural economy, connecting cutting-edge research initiatives at N.C. State with the agricultural heritage of Lee County,” said John Dean, SAGA’s economic development manager. “We expect Plant Pathways to be the leader in this new economic sector that capitalizes on both the past and future of Lee County.”

To learn more about The Plant Pathways Company, visit