Sweet Offerings Minus The Calories

Updated: May 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
The market for sweeteners couldn’t have looked sweeter. The Rs 30 crore market is growing annually in the range of 25-30 per cent. We all know that diabetes is a lifestyle disease. There are 24 million diagnosed diabetes patients in the country and according to estimates, India will be the diabetic capital of the world within the next decade.

But this is not the only reason why the sweetener market looks so sweet. Sugar substitute majors are increasingly looking at a larger population across the country, which includes, in addition to diabetes patients, weight watchers and people with cholesterol problems.

“We are the first brand to not restrict ourselves to the diabetic segment alone,” declares Jyoti Shiralee, head, Marketing, Consumer Products Division, Cadila HealthCare India Ltd. Cadila Healthcare makes Sugar Free. With current sales under Rs 10 crore, Merisant, whose flagship brand is the world famous Equal, plans to to become a market leader in India by 2005, pushing a Rs 100 crore turnover.

“Merisant looks at India as one of its top three growth opportunities in the world, thanks to its increasingly health conscious, large, middle class and changing lifestyles,” says Merisant chairman and chief executive officer Arnold W Donald. Worldwide, Merisant markets table-top sweeteners under 19 different brand names.

In India, Merisant offers Equal, Flix and Sweet Choice. Flix is a low calorie, powdered soft drink. A sachet costs Rs 16. Sweet Choice is essentially for people on the move. A 100 tablet trigger pack of this sweetener is priced at Rs 60.

In the near future, Merisant plans to offer several “better for you” alternatives to chocolates and candies, under the brand name, Canderel and Perfect Pleasures. Also launched is Spoon For Spoon. This granular sweetener is available in a 45 gram jar, priced at Rs 93. “Spoon For Spoon can be used for preparing low calorie Indian desserts like kheer,” says Sanjay Nayyar, chief executive officer, South Asia, Merisant.

“We plan to leverage Equal’s strong medical equity worldwide in India. We will also come up with value brands for people who can’t afford our mainstay products,” says Mr Nayyar.

Boots Piramal Healthcare Ltd’s Sweetex comes in both liquid (Rs 31 for 25 ml) and pellet (Rs 30 for 250 pellets) form. Sweetex Aspartame contains 100 pellets priced at Rs 45.

Like Merisant’s Spoon For Spoon, Piramal and Cadila also plan to bring out their powder concentrates, for use in desserts. Piramal’s powder concentrate is in the boardroom stage. The company plans a national roll-out within the next two or three months. Cadila’s 100 teaspoon serving powder concentrate, priced at Rs 80, should hit the market within the next few days. “This is an extension of Sugar Free in powder form. The idea is to use it for desserts,” says Ms Shiralee. Cadila also plans to give a recipe booklet with its 360 pack of Sugar Free pellets in the near future.

Sugar substitutes are not without their shortcomings. A key ingredient of these substitutes is aspartame, a low calorie sugar substitute discovered in 1981 that contains two protein derivatives, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, and a small proportion of methanol content. Some studies done abroad have suggested that aspartame could probably trigger cancer. But all the substitute majors are dismissive of this possibility. “In the western countries, there is a large presence of vested groups and pressure groups. They blame aspartame for everything—right from headaches to cancer,” quips Ms Shiralee. She adds: “A number of sugar lobbies are also involved in spreading such unsubstantiated claims.” The companies claim that none of the accusations against the ingredient has been backed by adequate clinical or scientific studies.

The fear of cancer apart, sugar substitutes are still largely perceived as an OTC commodity in India. “A lot of people have queries relating to dosage,” says Mr Nayyar. All said and done, the sweetener market holds out promises of a sweeter life for Indians.