Sustainability has risen on companies’ agendas recently, with an increasing number producing Corporate Responsibility Reports, which comment on environmental impacts of their business, outlining where improvement is possible.
Ajinomoto claims that it takes 53m gallons of water and 220 acres of land to produce 500 tonnes of ‘sugar equivalent’ from cane-derived sucrose, while aspartame takes 0.1m gallons and 2 acres. However, these figures take into account that aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar and therefore much less is needed to achieve equal sweetness.
An Ajinomoto spokesperson told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “We felt that it was of the moment and useful for companies to know. Sustainability is an issue which is increasingly being reported in the media.”
However, the company has not implemented any new measures in order to come up with its figures. When asked if Ajinomoto is simply finding a new way to market aspartame, the spokesperson said: “Yes, we are. Absolutely.”
Although the aspartame supplier is playing up the ingredient’s relatively lower water and land usage, the spokesperson also acknowledged that other artificial sweeteners would have similar environmental profiles, and added: “I don’t have specific figures for those, just for aspartame.”
David Mackay, president and CEO of Kellogg’s, which released its first responsibility report last week, said: “Now more than ever, it's important to [provide high-quality food] while minimizing environmental impacts and positively addressing global challenges. Our customers, consumers, investors and other stakeholders expect it of us – and we expect it of ourselves.”
The future of aspartame
Aspartame has come under harsh criticism in the past, and although it has been considered safe for use in food in both the US and Europe since the 1980s, suspicions over safety have endured. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reasserted its view in 2007 that there is no credible scientific evidence for ill-effects.
Despite this, the global market for aspartame still looks set to shrink. According to Leatherhead Food International, the global market for aspartame is around 17,000 tonnes, worth US$637m.
The UK-based consultancy said in a recent report: “It looks likely that aspartame market growth will slow in the coming years, under growing pressure from sucralose.”
Ajinomoto and NutraSweet are the market leaders on the world aspartame market, with both operating on a global basis. Ajinomoto provides aspartame to the US market from both of its production facilities, which are located in Japan and France.