Aspartame’s Ups and Downs
In 1985, after searching nearly a year for a suitable buyer, G. D. Searle & Co., inventor of the sugar substitute NutraSweet, agreed to merge with chemical producer Monsanto Co. in a deal worth $2.7 billion cash. Monsanto then created a separate subsidiary for its new aspartame business, The NutraSweet Company. Monsanto also owned the patented rights to saccharin at this time.
The companies had suspended their stock trading before the July 1985 morning announcement that Monsanto would acquire Searle for $65 a share in cash. Searle became a wholly owned subsidiary of Monsanto, which had pursued the Skokie, Ill.-based pharmaceutical company since September 1984.
By 1992, Monsanto’s US patent on aspartame expired, and The NutraSweet Company lost their 20-year monopoly on aspartame. Sales declined as competitors came onto the diet sweetener market, and concerns about aspartame health dangers were spreading worldwide over the global Internet.
By March 2000, Monsanto decided to get out of the sweetener market and sold its sweetener business to J.W. Childs Equity Partners II, LP. Since then, the company has competed for market share with other manufacturers, including Japan’s Ajinomoto Company, Inc. that acquired its aspartame business from Monsanto for $67 million US in 2000. Ajinomoto’s international production and marketing network for aspartame increased further in May 2000 when two EU joint ventures became fully owned subsidiaries of Ajinomoto under the names Ajinomoto Switzerland A.G. and Ajinomoto Euro-Aspartame S.A.
December 6, 2004, Ajinomoto announced that it was investing JPY 6 billion ($58 million US) to expand its aspartame manufacturing plants in Yokkaichi, Japan and Gravelines, France. Expansion began at these two locations in early 2005 and was completed by March 2006. Ajinomoto projected that it would remain the market leader in aspartame manufacturing, with a target goal of supplying more than half of the global aspartame market. They did not meet their expectations, however, and by 2009, Ajinomoto was researching new ways to improve aspartame’s market sales.
What did the manufacturer of one of the worlds most famous artificial sweeteners do? They rebranded aspartame and the Japanese “Pal Sweet Diet®” as “AminoSweet®”, and replicated the 1982 American marketing campaign claiming that aspartame was all natural. After all, Ajinomoto had now invested over $125 million US into aspartame, and they needed AminoSweet to successfully resurge.
Have they gotten their return on their investment? I highly doubt it.