The recent story that General Mills has plans to eliminate Aspartame from its immensely popular, low-calorie Yoplait Light, has recently caused a bit of stir in those who follow the food industry in America. It has also revitalized the ongoing debate over Aspartame itself.
Per Customer Request
Aspartame has received a good deal of bad publicity in recent years, especially after being linked to serious complications like the formation of brain tumors. General Mills, however, does not see this as a safety issue but rather as a matter of fixing an image problem and responding to customer’s complaints and concerns. While the company has not gone into great detail about what kind of customer feedback it was getting, it did post on a recent blog that is had listened to what customers had to say on this issue and was taking responsive action.
What has also suprised many pundits throughout the food industry is that General Mills, after removing the Aspartame from its Yoplait Light, will be replacing it with sucralose, which has also received its fair share of bad publicity in recent times. General Mills notes that this choice was made because of its favorable review in taste tests. It also maintains that sucralose is the only viable artifical sweetener made from sugar, which is true; what it doesn’t add is that to be converted into sucralose, the sugar must be modified chemically in a rather complicated process. The makers themselves refer to their product as “not natural”, though it is chemically related to sugar.
What many people are wondering now is — since marketing is all about public perception — why General Mills essentially replaced one artifical sweetener with another, instead of utilizing a truly natural sweetener like monk fruit extract or stevia. Datamonitor director Tom Vierhile, speaking about this issue, noted, “By claiming their yogurt is ‘aspartame free’, General Mills is implying that Aspartame is inferior to other low calorie sweeteners and maybe even less healthful….this could boomerang on General Mills if it stirs up consumers that would like the company to removed all artificial sweeteners froms its calorie reduced yogurts.”
Aspartame and the “Losing Battle”
This move by General Mills comes as just another in a series of blows against aspartame, and will certainly do nothing to help the way the public perceives this much-criticized artifical sweetener. Jean Ban, a senior branding and marketing executive, notes that this move just signals more bad press for a sweetener which already is at the heart of a controversy. Not all people feel this way, though. Dr. Ihab Bishay, who works for Aspartame maker Ajinomoto notes that he will simply continue to try to educate consumers on the health benefits of Aspartame and why it is safe. “I don’t think it is a losing battle”, he notes.
In the meantime, the change is underway and by the end of the summer, General Mill’s yogurt will be sweetened with sucrolose and remain around 90 calories per serving. It will be interesting to see what the fallout from all of this will be, and seems to be just another segment in the ongoing conversation about artificial sweeteners.
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