Japanese seasonings firm Ajinomoto has announced that it is investing ¥6bn (US$58.6m) to expand its aspartame manufacturing plants in Yokkaichi, Japan and Gravelines, France, in order to meet growing demand from food and beverage companies for the amino acid based low-calorie sweetener.

A series of expansions at the two locations, beginning early in 2005 and to be completed by March 2006, will result in Ajinomoto's global capacity reaching 10,000 tonnes per year. The company said the increased capacity will enable Ajinomoto to supply more than half of the fast growing aspartame market.

"Rising concerns about overweight and obesity have significantly increased consumer demand for good tasting, low calorie foods and beverages," said Kunio Egashira, president and CEO at Ajinomoto.

"And recent market data shows that the increasing demand for products containing aspartame, such as low calorie soft drinks, is a world wide phenomenon, extending beyond the United States and Europe, even to many developing countries," Egashira added.