By Maryclaire Dale
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
PHILADELPHIA, April 10 -- The marketers of Splenda have made millions of dollars by confusing consumers into thinking the yellow packets contain a natural product, its chief rival told a jury Tuesday.
Merisant, which makes Equal and NutraSweet, says that since Splenda's debut in 2000, the product has cornered the market for sugar substitutes through false advertising, using the tag line: "Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar." Splenda contains no sugar and is instead sweetened with a synthetic compound through a complex chemical process.
McNeil Nutritionals, which markets Splenda, counters that sugar is used in the manufacturing process, even if it is burned off and not part of the final product. Consumers prefer Splenda because it tastes better and is easier to bake with, a lawyer for McNeil said.
"Now, in 2007, Merisant wants to blame its misfortunes on false advertising," Steven Zalesin, a lawyer for McNeil, said in opening remarks in U.S. District Court.
Splenda had 60 percent of the more than $355 million in consumer sales last year, according to research firm Information Resources. Equal and Sweet'N Low each held about 14 percent.
Zalesin defended the language in Splenda's ads, saying no sugar substitute markets itself as an "artificial sweetener." Instead, marketers use what he called "code" language, such as "no-calorie sweetener."
McNeil, a unit of Johnson & Johnson, markets Splenda for its manufacturer, Tate & Lyle of London. It is also defending its Splenda ad claims in a suit filed by the Sugar Association, a group of U.S. sugar manufacturers.