Splenda Should Stop Confusing Consumers, Says CSPI

Statement of CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson


Over the years, CSPI has challenged the honesty of dozens of food-industry advertising campaigns and label claims. We've targeted ads and labels sponsored by the beef and coffee industries and by such companies as KFC, Procter and Gamble, Campbell, Arby's, Kraft, and Quaker. In some cases the products were safe, in other cases unhealthful. Our position has always been that advertising and labeling, whether for products that are healthful or unhealthful, should be truthful and non-misleading.

Today we're talking about Splenda, which contains the artificial sweetener sucralose. The product itself appears to be safe. Unlike sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, it is low in calories and does not promote tooth decay. But that is no excuse for misleading labeling and advertising. McNeil Nutritionals, a division of Johnson and Johnson, goes to great lengths to imply that Splenda is natural and safe by using the slogan "made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar."

To understand how consumers perceived Splenda's slogan, last April CSPI commissioned a national Internet survey that included 426 people who had used Splenda. Only 57 percent of Splenda users correctly believed that Splenda was an artificial sweetener. 47 percent of Splenda users incorrectly believed it was a natural product. Only 8 percent of the respondents correctly believed that it was made from sugar and chlorine. The sucralose in Splenda is, in fact, a synthetic chemical that contains chlorine, something that no natural sugar contains.

"Made from sugar," certainly sounds better than, say, "made from chlorinated hydrocarbons," or "made in a laboratory," or "fresh from the factory." Splenda's artificiality may present a marketing challenge, but that's not an excuse to confuse consumers and lead them to believe that Splenda is natural or in any way related to sugar. I hope that McNeil starts marketing Splenda honestly.