Dublin- and Geneva-based Fusion launched its SucraPlus brand at the Private Label Manufacturers Association trade exhibition in Amsterdam in May. The product is made in India by Fusion's partner Alkem and the technology is based on expired patents of established sucralose leader Tate & Lyle.
Angus Flood, director for industrial sales & marketing at Fusion, told FoodNavigator.com that the company initially thought the biggest and most immediate market for its sucralose would be private label.
Indeed three major UK supermarkets, Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer, and Walmart-owned Asda, have all recently mandated their private label manufacturers to remove aspartame from their products.
But many private label manufacturers are also brand manufacturers. And given the power that retailers have in choosing what products go on sale - and thus, in shaping the market - there are predictions that the next step will be to request that branded products are aspartame-free, too.
In addition, Fusion says the next stop for big trends in the UK market is usually mainland Europe.
These factors are said to open up a dynamic area of the market, and Fusion has dedicated R&D resources to solving reformulation challenges in partnership with potential customers. The aim is to make sure sucralose tastes "at least as good" as products with aspartame.
Fusion has hinted it will soon be in a position to announce "a major win" for its sucralose ingredient with a global brand manufacturer. Until the deal is inked, however, details are being kept under wraps; it is not known if sucralose will be used in place of aspartame in this instance.
Aspartame, which has been permitted in foods and beverages in both the EU and the US since the early 1980s, has nonetheless been the subject of suspicion over safety. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) last year reasserted its view that there is no credible scientific evidence for ill-effects.
But Flood said that aspartame resistance is now recognised as an "unstoppable consumer trend".
This means that companies are also reluctant to use aspartame in new products they are bringing to market.
According to a recent report from Leatherhead Food International, aspartame is the most widely used intense sweetener, with the global market estimated to be worth some US$637m.
Global sales of sucralose in 2007 were estimated at $233m.
Patents and process efficiency
Fusion has also said that its "clear and respectful" IP position with respect to Tate & Lyle is paying off, as it is able to provide expert European based quality systems and application support.
Tate & Lyle says it is now using third generation technology for sucralose production, whereas Fusion is using the first generation method, the patent for which has expired.
According to Flood, the actual sucralose produced is not different, but the use of the technologies used mean the difference "essentially comes down to process efficiency".
While Tate & Lyle can be more efficient thanks its new technology, Fusion has lower production costs as its sucralose is made by Alkem in India, where cost of production is lower.
Flood said that Fusion is not seeking to bring a cheaper product to market to compete with Tate & Lyle on a cost basis.
"It is not in our interest to try to commoditise the product," he said, given the investment it has made in IP, certification, and safety assurance.
However industrial sucralose users have expressed an interest "on the basis that it is always desirable to diversify the supplier base," Flood said.
But at the time of the launch in May, Tate & Lyle responded by saying that the differences in the technologies "sets the context against which you should view this small scale manufacturing facility."
"We have always said that scaling up the manufacturing process is the issue," a spokesperson told FoodNavigator.com.