NEW YORK: A sharp rise in negative buzz around Splenda, the no-calorie sweetener, might indicate that a pro-sugar campaign has tarnished the previously strong brand, according to online buzz.
BuzzMetrics, which monitors 90 online health and nutrition forums, reported that negative buzz around Splenda increased from 27% to 33%, and mixed sentiments from 21% to 25%, between the third and fourth quarters of 2004.
Jonathan Carson, president and CEO of BuzzMetrics, noted that consumers are starting to question whether Splenda could be harmful.
"There's an undercurrent of negativity about side effects," he said. "The market leader is at risk and under attack."
He added that Splenda must undergo a new phase of brand positioning to address concerns about gastrointestinal distress, headaches, and sugar cravings.
"Splenda has ridden a wave of grassroots excitement ... to the point where they became the leader in the industry," Carson said, adding that the positive buzz "brightened the image of [the artificial sweetener] category."
But he noted that Splenda has been under attack from groups such as the Sugar Association, which has filed a lawsuit and launched a large-scale PR campaign against the claim that Splenda is "all-natural."
The Sugar Association is working with Qorvis Communications to dispute Splenda's messages about being a natural product.
Carson noted that artificial sweeteners like saccharin have long had to address concerns about whether they cause cancer and other ailments.
"The artificial sweetener category has always been one that has some degree of scrutiny on it," he said. "With Splenda, we see this surge [in negative buzz] not only in the media and among activists, but also general consumers."
Monia Neufang, director of communications for McNeil Nutritionals, makers of Splenda, said that market indicators suggest that more consumers are trying and continuing to buy the product.
?Our research doesn?t indicate that consumers are anything but positive about the brand,? she said, adding that she could not comment directly on the BuzzMetrics study because she was unfamiliar with it.
She also emphasized that the product does not have side effects.
BuzzMetrics conducts the Nutrition Influencer Panel on behalf of six of the country's largest food producers, according to Carson.