A recent report from market researcher Mintel suggests there is significant consumer concern over the potential health risks associated with artificial sweeteners, in spite of increasing sales of products containing such ingredients. According to the report, more than 60% of American adults are concerned about the safety of artificial sweeteners.

"While the sugar-free market is expanding, there is concern and confusion among some medical professionals and consumers as to the safety of these products," said Marcia Mogelonsky, senior analyst for Mintel. "The public is confronted with an array of facts and statistics that elevate health concerns and raise the issue of whether sugar-free is worth the potential risk."

Media attention and Food and Drug Administration statements have highlighted potential artificial sweetener risks. Consumers are weighing the benefits of sugar-free products against these perceived risks, but sales have not been negatively affected, says Mintel. By 2005, sales of sugar-free foods and beverages in the US reached a total of US$5.9bn, and are forecast to rise to $7.7bn by 2010.

Mintel says new sugar alternatives such as Splenda have reinvigorated the market, while new product innovations have fuelled growth in the sugar-free category, notably in the gums, desserts, condiments and carbonated drinks sectors. According to Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD), close to 3,000 new products have been introduced in the past three years that claim to have no, low or reduced sugar.

"The uncertainty is not stopping people from using sugar-free products, but as far as consumers are concerned, moderation is key once they have chosen the substitute they feel is safest," said Mogelonsky. "The majority of consumers believe that some artificial sweeteners are safer than others, giving producers the chance to win customers' trust by focusing on their safety."