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Chinese aspartame firm makes UK move

By Jess Halliday , 05-Sep-2008
Last updated on 05-Sep-2008 at 10:03 GMT2008-09-05T10:03:54Z

SinoSweet is stepping up its activities in the UK this month with the opening of a new sales office for aspartame, which it believes will help sales of the sweetener in the face of rival sucralose.

SinoSweet claims to be the manufacturer of more than 50 per cent of the aspartame made in China, and to “enjoy major contracts with all of the world’s largest users”.

SinoSweet UK’s managing director Richard Stead said that the Chinese firm believes it will be able to provide the UK market with a “cost-effective, full flavour, alternative to sucralose”.

The aspartame will be supplied directly from China and stocks will be held in the UK.

Stead told FoodNavigator.com supermarkets have removed aspartame from own brands. However, because the own brands market share is not huge, there has been only a small loss for aspartame and overall there has been continued growth in its use.

He added: “The changes to own brands have not necessarily been successful, the taste and so forth has not necessarily improved.”

Stead said price is also an issue as aspartame costs about £10 per kilo, while sucralose costs £100 per kilo, although about a third less sucralose can be used compared to aspartame.

The two market leaders in the world aspartame market are Ajinomoto and NutraSweet. Both operate on a global basis.

But Stead added: “Ajinomoto have not had a dominant market share in the UK for many years so we have the chance of maintaining sales and stealing more business from other Chinese producers.

“We already have a lower price (compared to Ajinomoto) and we offer stocks held here in the UK.”

“The UK market for aspartame is probably 1500 tonnes (annual demand) and we would expect that we would achieve 50 per cent.”

Nonetheless, SinoSweet is not the only Chinese sweetener firm to lay a claim to the UK sweetener scene this year. Niutang announced in July that it is also opening an office there, in a bid to expand its share in aspartame, sucralose and folic acid in the important strategic base.

Market analysts have noted over the last few years that aspartame, although still the most widely used of the intense sweetener, is increasingly being replaced by sucralose.

According to UK-based Leatherhead Food International, aspartame has suffered as a result of fears over its safety; however, the science as it stands today does not support the purported link with cancer and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) last year reasserted its view that there is no evidence of ill effects.

In a recent report, Leatherhead estimated that the global annual market volume of aspartame is around 17,000 tonnes, and its value is US$637.

Data from Mintel’s Global New Products Database indicates that the number of new products containing aspartame launched in Europe has dropped consistently over the last three years, from 746 listed in 2005, to 700 in 2006, to 663 in 2007.

Sucralose use, on the other hand, looks to be moving in the opposite direction. Mintel listed 134 new products containing sucralose in Europe in 2005, rising to 150 in 2006, to 234 in 2007.

Angus Flood, director of international sales at marketing at Fusion Nutraceuticals, which this year launched its sucralose product in the UK, told FoodNavigator.com recently that he believes manufacturers are opting against aspartame in new launches as they do not want to have to reformulate further down the line.

Already there is a move towards retailers removing artificial additives from their private label products. (Most notably Asda has condemned aspartame as a ‘nasty’ on product labels, incurring a lawsuit filing from Ajinomoto, which along with NutraSweet is one of the two leading suppliers in the world).

Flood believes that the next step will be for retailers to request manufacturers of branded food products to take parallel measures - or indeed to require aspartame-free products if they want them to be stocked on shelves.

However Stead said he does not believe it will get to the point where supermarkets would refuse to stock major brands because they contain aspartame.

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