In a complaint filed last week in a Philadelphia federal court Merisant said Splenda's marketing slogan, "made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar," had misled consumers into thinking the artificial sweetener was "natural."
According to McNeil Nutritionals, sucralose starts off as pure cane sugar, and is then chemically altered in the manufacturing process to create a new compound with zero calories and 600 times sweeter than sugar.
A currently booming market for the Splenda product may, or may not, feel the impact of the US court case.
"From our perspective, whatever the outcome of the litigation, sucralose will still be made from sugar, and still taste like sugar," a spokesperson at Tate and Lyle, that manufactures the Splenda brand, told FoodNavigator.com this morning.
Currently approved in 40 countries, sucralose has only recently been accepted onto the EU25 market through an amendment to the 1994 EU Sweeteners Directive (94/35/EC), cleared in February this year.
Sucralose was developed jointly by McNeil Nutritionals and sugar giant Tate & Lyle. The British firm became the sole manufacturer of Splenda earlier this year after reaching an agreement with McNeil Nutritionals.
Tate & Lyle is responsible for the worldwide sales of Splenda to food and beverage manufacturers, while McNeil covers the tabletop retail and foodservice sales of the brand.
More than 3,500 products are now sweetened with sucralose, the companies claim.
The market for alternative sweeteners such as sucralose holds considerable potential - growing 8.3 per cent year on year until 2008 - as rising health concerns drive consumers towards sugar-free products and food makers introduce zero-calorie or low-calorie sugar substitutes into their new product formulations.
Sales are predicted to rise from a small base of $81m in 1998 to $189m in 2008, report analysts Freedonia.