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Nutrinova 'sets record straight' on patents

24-Jan-2005

Pressure on price and market share for Nutrinova, a leading supplier of non-nutritive sweetener acesulfame-K, is set to rise as a key patent for the sweetener will soon reach its deadline, reports Lindsey Partos.

In the EU, acesulfame potassium - also known as the additive E950 - gained approval in 1983 and the additive currently has approval in about 90 countries worldwide, including the US, since 1988.

Nutrinova claims that its sweetener, roughly 200 times sweeter than sugar, is used in over 4000 food and beverage products worldwide.

Rising questions from manufacturers, undoubtedly stemming from observations of non-Nutrinova supplied Acesulfame K on the market, drove the German firm to "set the record straight" this week on its intellectual property portfolio.

And, particularly, in light of the expiration of an important patent for the production of Acesulfame K starting in March 2005.

"For North America, it is important to note that the process patent, which expires in various countries starting in March 2005, will be valid in Canada until September 2007.

For products sold or manufactured in Canada. Nutrinova also holds two patents on the key intermediate of the manufacturing process of Acesulfame K, which are valid in the USA until 2008 and 2009 respectively," said the inventors of the sweetener, used in a broad range of food and drink applications.

Altogether, more than 30 patent families confirm Nutrinova as the innovative supplier for Acesulfame K, they add.

For some years now, and through a flurry of court cases, Nutrinova has defended the patent for its high intensity sweetener. But the issue of the impending expiry of the patent still looms over future business, confirmed by recent financial results.

Last year the firm clocked up a 10 per cent drop in net sales for the food ingredients business to €38 million, mainly due to a decline in prices - by 16 per cent - which was only partially offset by a 6 per cent increase in volumes.

Celanese, the owner of Nutrinova, said that pricing for Nutrinova's successful sweetener brand Sunett declined on "lower unit selling prices" associated with higher volumes to major customers and notably, increased competition in the market, particularly from Asia.

Tentative moves to sell the Nutrinova business early last year have since been ditched by German chemical group Celanese.

Speaking to FoodNavigator.com today, a spokesperson for the group confirmed said: "There are currently no intentions to sell Nutrinova. It is considered one of our cash contribution businesses."

Intensity sweeteners are currently enjoying strong growth on the back of rising health concerns. According to market analysts Freedonia, the market is growing at around 8.3 per cent year on year until 2008, with sales rising from a small base of $81m in 1998 to $189m in 2008.

By itself, acesulfame-K has a bitter, metallic aftertaste, but it is synergistic with a number of other sweeteners, including aspartame.

Graham Hall, president and COO of Nutrinova told FoodNavigator.com last year that the company has been particularly successful in selling the blended sweetener formula.

A heat stable additive, making it suitable for cooking and baking, the sweetener is composed of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, sulphur and potassium atoms. The Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the scientific advisory body to the World Health Organisation, has established an ADI of 15 mg/kg of body weight.

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