Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

On the streets of Philadelphia

You may have already seen this news story in C&EN about a recent trial in Philadelphia: Merisant (the company that produces Equal and NutraSweet) has sued McNeil Nutritionals (the company that makes Splenda) because Merisant doesn’t think it’s fair that Splenda’s marketing campaign includes the phrase “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.”

This is the kind of advertising campaign that makes most chemists cringe, and – though this may sound like a petty dispute between two rival companies – I think we need to hold companies accountable for exploiting the general public’s lack of scientific knowledge. Unfortunately many people will think: Splenda is not sugar, but it is made from sugar – so it must be safe, right? (Wasn’t palytoxin made from sugar?) Though this sort of ad campaign wouldn’t work on many scientists, it certainly worked on the general public: “”">sales of Splenda were weak in 2001, when McNeil launched an ad campaign saying the sweetener is made from sugar and including the phrase ‘but it’s not sugar.‘" Since then, “Splenda has eclipsed Equal in the lucrative artificial sweeteners market” – and it’s not like Merisant can counter with an ad campaign, saying that Aspartame’s “made from phenylalanine, so it tastes like phenylalanine”…

It should be an interesting trial, as it’s bound to have “”“>phalanxes of neurobiologists and chemists as expert witnesses.” (As an aside, I guess that the answer to Stuart’s question is ‘a phalanx of chemists’…) And the best part is that it’s a jury trial, so anything can happen

Do you think they’ll use voir dire to exclude people who prefer natural sugar or are loyal to one of the two brands? Maybe I should offer my services, as I’m pretty indiscriminant when it comes to sweetening my coffee…


Joshua Finkelstein (Senior Editor, Nature)


  1. Report this comment

    Ed said:

    Merisant is being quite the hypocrite here, complaining of the implication of Splenda’s slogan. The name of their product implies that it is equal to sugar. How is that not worse?

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    Paul said:

    Splenda is scary looking. The last thing I would think to do with a molecule containing primary halides with neighboring oxygens would be to eat it.

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    Andrew Sun said:

    I don’t know these companies but I know their tricks well. How could the public be scientifically strong enough against the illusive propaganda? I suggest the instruction of the product should follow the code of scientific paper: every claim should be supported by experimental tables or figures, or alternatively a reference of other peer-viewed work. And the instruction is open for comment. All of this should be open-access by consumers so that if they like to they can verify how much they can trust the instruction of the product.