Merisant expects to exit bankruptcy in January

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Stevia, Sugar substitute

Tabletop sweetener company Merisant has had its plan of reorganization approved, which should pave the way for it to emerge from bankruptcy in the coming weeks, the company has said.

Merisant entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January – a move that it said at the time would free up more cash to invest in its stevia-derived PureVia sweetener. Following the filing of its Plan of Reorganization three months ago, it said it could emerge from bankruptcy as early as January 2010. The company has now specified that it could exit bankruptcy by January 8.

Chairman and chief executive officer of Merisant Paul Block said: “As a result of the Plan, Merisant now has a significantly improved capital structure and liquidity profile. Over the last several years, the company has worked diligently to improve the efficiency of our operations, stabilize our core sweetener businesses and launch innovative natural sweetener products. With this Plan, we now have the right structure in place to execute our strategies.”

The company said that implementing its plan would reduce its debt from $567m to $147m, and its annual interest payments from $36m to $11m.

Merisant, whose brands include the sweeteners Equal and Canderel, has faced stiff competition in recent years from rival sweeteners such as Splenda, which is said to have eaten into its market share.

Moody’s said in January that global competition from the sucralose sweetener brand Splenda has eroded sales and market share for Merisant over the past several years. However, it added that sales of PureVia were likely to offset any decline in aspartame-based sweeteners.

The company said it has continued its business as usual during the bankruptcy case, “without material disruption”.

Merisant secured a $20m debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing facility from Wayzata Investment Partners in January in order to ensure that it had adequate liquidity to operate while it restructured its debt.

As a result of the restructuring, Wayzata has become the majority and controlling shareholder of Merisant Company and its subsidiaries.

Block added: “Merisant has benefitted from Wayzata's commitment to our successful restructuring over the past year and we look forward to working with Wayzata to propel the company’s growth and increase shareholder value.”

Merisant was one of two applicants (the other being Cargill) that notified the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that Reb A, which is made from the stevia leaf, should have GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status for use in food and beverages.

And in December, Merisant and Cargill both received official notification of no objection from the FDA, opening up the stevia market.

Last year the Whole Earth Sweetener Company (a subsidiary of Merisant), along with PepsiCo, and PureCircle, launched the PureVia brand of Reb A.

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