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NutraSweet to boost aspartame capacity amid rising demand

Associated Press

NEW YORK — With more consumers switching to diet soft drinks, NutraSweet Co., a leading producer of aspartame, plans to restart a mothballed production line at a Georgia plant this year to satisfy increased demand for the sugar substitute.

The plans will result in a 30 percent increase in aspartame production, NutraSweet Chief Executive Craig Petray said.

According to Petray, aspartame demand is rising 4 percent to 5 percent, largely due to its use in U.S. soft drinks.

“Despite sucralose getting most of the headlines in recent months, the resurgence in demand for aspartame is a key development in 2004,” said Nick Fereday, a senior economist at LMC International Ltd., a New York consulting firm that tracks developments in the sugar and sweetener industries.

In recent years, use of low-calorie sweeteners has grown faster than sugar use, Fereday said.

The demand for low-calorie sugar substitutes has been so strong that right now there is room in the market for all of these sweeteners to grow, according to Fereday.

Chicago-based NutraSweet will reopen part of its aspartame facility in Augusta, Ga., that has been shuttered since 2003.

Petray expects the plant to reach full capacity by 2006, he said. Once restarted, the company’s production capacity will rise to 10,000 metric tons.

Current aspartame production is estimated to be in the range of 16,000 metric tons and 16,500 metric tons, Petray said.

NutraSweet isn’t alone in boosting capacity of aspartame. Japan’s Ajinomoto Co. also announced capacity expansions at its plants in Yokkaichi, Japan, and Gravelines, France.

According to LMC, the additional capacity may mean an aspartame price war is imminent.

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