NutraSweet to exit artificial sweetener aspartame business

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Artificial sweetener maker NutraSweet said on Wednesday it would exit its aspartame business by the end of the year, citing increasing foreign competition.

Aspartame, which is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, is widely used to sweeten diet sodas.

"Low-cost imports now dominate the aspartame market, making it impossible for us to sustain a profitable business ...," Chief Executive William DeFer said in a statement.

The company markets its aspartame-based sweeteners under the brand name NutraSweet aspartame.

NutraSweet, which also sells brands such as neotame and Twinsweet, said it would shut down its aspartame and L-phenylalanine production plant in Augusta,Georgia.

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The company said it would offer severance payments and placement assistance to the about 210 people employed at the plant.

NutraSweet's exit leaves Merisant as a major player in the aspartame-based artificial sweetener business.

Merisant could not be immediately reached for comment.

Beverage companies have struggled to hold on to customers amid fears about the safety of FDA-approved aspartame, which has sweetened diet soda for 30 years.

However, the European Union's food safety watchdog said in December that aspartame posed no health risks at currently approved consumption levels.