Tate & Lyle free to explore tabletop sweetener market

by Jeff Gelski
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LONDON — New opportunities in the tabletop sweetener market may help Tate & Lyle, P.L.C. deal with falling prices for its Splenda sucralose, a high-intensity sweetener.

“We now have full freedom to operate in the tabletop market worldwide,” said Javed Ahmed, chief executive officer of London-based Tate & Lyle, in a May 29 conference call to discuss results for fiscal year 2014.

Tate & Lyle, a sucralose supplier, was under an agreement with McNeil Nutritionals, L.L.C., Port Washington, Pa. McNeil Nutritionals owns the Splenda trademark and uses sucralose in its Splenda products, including tabletop sweetener packets.

“This was the final year of payments from McNeil, based on their sales of tabletop products, which were part of the realignment 10 years ago,” said Tim Lodge, chief financial officer for Tate & Lyle, in the May 29 call.

Mr. Ahmed added, “The opportunity in tabletop is an area that’s completely new to us. Because of our long-standing agreement we didn’t have freedom to operate on that, because of the 10-year agreement we had with McNeil Nutritionals. Now that we’ve renegotiated that, we have access to that tabletop market.”

He said Tate & Lyle has a number of projects in the pipeline in terms of working with tabletop sweetener providers across the world, not just in Europe or North America.

“So that’s a new territory for us,” he said.

Price declines for sucralose is the big headwind for Tate & Lyle right now, Mr. Ahmed said.

The competitive environment for sucralose intensified during the final quarter of the 2014 fiscal year, which ended March 31, driven by a capacity increase in China and an overhang of unsold Chinese sucralose, according to Tate & Lyle.

“Against this backdrop, we renewed a number of customer contracts for Splenda sucralose, including some on a multi-year basis, and as a result we experienced an increase in the rate of price decline in Splenda sucralose in the final quarter,” Tate & Lyle said.

The company expects average prices for sucralose in the 2015 financial year to be about 15% lower than average prices in the 2014 financial year.

Tate & Lyle still sees a promising future for the sweetener. Its taste profile and heat stability allow Splenda sucralose to be used in a range of food and beverage applications. Also, rising global rates of obesity and diabetes should increase demand for lower-calorie products that use sucralose.

Mr. Ahmed said sucralose’s value share of the global high-intensity sweetener market continues to increase. It stood at 35% in 2013 compared with 28% in 2009.

In the conference call, Mr. Ahmed said Tate & Lyle’s board has approved capital expenditures of £100 million ($167 million) over the next two years. The capital expenditures will be used to expand capacity at specialty starch plants in Europe and the United States, expand a recently acquired beta-glucan business in Sweden, support growth of upcoming new products expected to launch in the next 12 to 18 months, and deliver on cost-improvement initiatives.

Tate & Lyle has 35 projects at various stages of development, Mr. Ahmed said.

“The pipeline includes a number of line extensions, next generation and breakthrough projects across our health and wellness, texturants, sweeteners and bulk ingredients platforms,” he said.

In the 2014 fiscal year ended March 31, Tate & Lyle had profit of £273 million ($456 million), which was equal to the previous year’s profit. Sales of £3,147 million ($5,261 million) were down 3% from £3,256 million in the previous fiscal year.

Within the company’s Speciality Food Ingredients division, sales of £983 million marked a 4% increase from £947 million. Sales of high-intensity sweeteners, principally from sucralose, were 1% higher. Lower selling prices for sucralose offset volume growth of 5%. Sales of starch-based specialty ingredients increased 7%.

Within the company’s Bulk Ingredients division, sales decreased 6% to £2,164 million from £2,309 million. A cold spring in 2013 in the United States constrained demand for carbonated soft drinks, an end market for bulk liquid corn sweeteners.

In its outlook for the 2015 fiscal year, Tate & Lyle expects a lower profit contribution from Splenda sucralose to offset good performance elsewhere in the Speciality Food Ingredients division. In Bulk Ingredients, Tate & Lyle anticipates a slower start in the first quarter because of a prolonged and severe winter.
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