Sucralose, which is marketed under the Splenda brand name, is the future of the US$2.1bn sugar and sweetener market, according to Mintel’s latest research.

Around 74% of Americans who use sugar or artificial sweetener believe that sugar consumption leads to weight gain (up from 69% in 2002). In this era of concern about obesity and weight control, some sweeteners have fared better than others, with the fastest growing product being sucralose, a sugar-derived sweetener that is not metabolised and therefore adds no calories or carbohydrates to the diet. Consumers worried about their weight, subscribers to a low-carb diet, and diabetics have all embraced sucralose, which has only been sold at retail in a form similar to other sweeteners since 2000. Before then, sucralose could be found only as an ingredient in prepared foods.

Sucralose comprises 6.5% of the overall sugar and sweetener market, and gained $79m in sales between 2002 and 2004, while the rest of the market lost a combined $33m. Until sucralose became available at retail, the usage of non-sugar sweeteners in baking and cooking was minimal, as the artificial products such as saccharin and aspartame are not recommended for baking. The “bakeability” of sucralose is notable – it is the only non-sugar sweetener that can be used almost interchangeably with sugar and it may encourage some consumers to start baking again. Consumer usage of sucralose has risen from 3% in 2002 to 11% in 2004. Mintel predicts that the market for sucralose will grow 151% by 2008 to reach $289m.

Sales of sugar and sweeteners increased 1% between 1999 and 2004, which translates to a constant dollar decline of 10% during this period. If sucralose was removed from the equation, the downward spiral would be more intense – without the positive contribution of sucralose, the market would have shown a current price decline of 5%, equalling 16% in constant 2004 prices. The factors cited above – reduction in home baking, a low carb lifestyle, the overweight/obese epidemic, and the serious increase in incidence of Type II diabetes – have all contributed to the overall slowing of the market. Sucralose provides the only bright spot in an otherwise slowing industry. Other sweeteners may be poised in the wings to compete with this product but currently sucralose is the only contender in the non-sugar field that is showing significant growth.

Mintel projects that growth in the sugar and sweetener market in 2003 to 2008 will be very similar to that of 1999 to 2003. Expect declining sales in white granulated sugar and non-sugar sweeteners, with the only bright light in the industry being the rapid growth in the sales of Splenda. The latter segment requires careful attention – it is flourishing partly because of the popularity of low carb diets, but as has been seen with other popular diet-based innovations, these trends can have a short duration.  The market for sucralose as a stand alone product (as opposed to an ingredient added by manufacturers to processed and prepared foods) will undoubtedly experience a drag on its growth rate when consumers move onto the next diet trend. Nevertheless, sales of Splenda are expected to continue rising.