Maker of Equal sues marketer of Splenda over advertising claim

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

PHILADELPHIA -- The company that makes the artificial sweetener Equal filed a false advertising lawsuit claiming that its hot-selling competitor, Splenda, isn't really made from sugar, like its packaging claims.

In a complaint filed in federal court in Philadelphia on Friday, Chicago-based Merisant Co. said Splenda's marketing slogan, "made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar," should read something more like, "made from dextrose, maltodextrin and 4-chloro-4-deoxy-alpha, D-Galactopyranosyl-1,6-dichloro-1,6-dideoxy-beta, D-fructofuranoside."

The third substance in that list is the chemical name for sucralose, the sweet part of Splenda. The other two ingredients are bulking agents, found in many foodstuffs, that help control Splenda's taste. Sucralose alone is about 600 times as sweet as sugar.

Merisant said that McNeil Nutritionals, the unit of Johnson & Johnson that markets Splenda, had misled consumers into thinking that the artificial sweetener was "natural," or made with raw sugar, when it is actually a synthesized chemical.

"In reality ... there is no sugar in Splenda and Splenda's sweet taste does not come from sugar," the lawsuit said, "Splenda is not natural in any sense of the word. Instead, the truth about Splenda is that it is sweetened with a synthetic compound that is the result of a complex chemical process."

McNeil Nutritionals spokeswoman Monica Neufang said the lawsuit has no merit.

"Splenda," she insisted, "is made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar."

According to the Fort Washington-based company, sucralose begins its life as pure cane sugar, which is then chemically altered during the manufacturing process to create a new compound that doesn't contain any calories.

"We have never claimed that it is natural, nor would we. It is a sugar substitute," Neufang said. "Consumers are not misled."

Such disputes between companies about advertising truthfulness are often refereed by the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau.

Merisant sought to have the group intervene, but McNeil instead filed a lawsuit in a court in Puerto Rico earlier in November, seeking to have its advertising claims declared valid.

It isn't yet certain whether the court in Puerto Rico or the court in Philadelphia will get final jurisdiction over the dispute.

Merisant asked the Philadelphia court to prohibit McNeil Nutritionals from making any further claims associating Splenda with sugar.

It also asked a judge to order McNeil to pay unspecified cash damages, and to initiate a corrective advertising campaign clarifying that Splenda is a synthetic chemical.

Since its introduction in the United States in 2000, Splenda sales have soared. It has since passed Equal in the U.S. retail market for sugar substitutes.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: