The European Commission this week gave the thumbs up to a joint venture between Danish/Swedish company Arla Foods Ingredients and German sugar giant Nordzucker, to bring the low calorie, tooth-friendly sweetener Gaio tagatose to the marketplace.
The clearance comes just a few months after the two companies christened their first tagatose plant for production of this full-bulk sweetener in Germany on the site of Nordzucker's sugar plant near Hanover.
The two companies have high hopes for the product, which looks and tastes like sugar but contains only about a third of the calories.
"Our first priority right now is to achieve successful commercial production of something that has never been produced before," said commercial director at Arla Foods Ingredients, Mads Vigh in June this year. "With Gaio tagatose in production, we hope to confirm the market potentialwe believe exists," he added.
Patented by US company Spherix, Gaio tagatose is produced from milk sugar lactose. In 1996 Arla Foods acquired the rights to this low calorie sweetener with a prebiotic effect - it stimulates the beneficial bacteria in the digestive system - for use in foodstuffs.
Frustrated by the slow arrival of its patented sweetener to the marketplace Spherix international last year begun legal proceedings against its 'overly cautious' licensee MD Foods (now part of the Swedish Arla group), claiming that the Danish company had taken an "unreasonably long time to bring tagatose to market".
The launch in August this year of the new Diet Pepsi flavoured Slurpee drink - that uses tagatose as a flavour enhancer - marked the first commercial introduction of Spherix's low-calorie sweetener and a long awaited day for Spherix.
All concerned will be keen to earn a slice of the growing sweeteners market - US market analysts BCC Communications pitched the total worldwide value of the sweetener market in 2002 at $10.92 billion (€10.02bn).