Putting the pressure on its licensee MD Foods to bring tagatose to the marketplace may well have worked for the low cal sweetener patent holder Spherix International with the news this week that 7-Eleven has introduced a new drink that contains the natural sugar onto the market.
The launch of the new Diet Pepsi flavoured Slurpee drink - that uses tagatose as a flavour enhancer - marks the first commercial introduction of Spherix's low-calorie sweetener and a long awaited day for the company.
Last year the US company begun legal proceedings against its 'overly cautious' licensee MD Foods (now part of the Swedish Arla group), claiming that the Danish company had taken an "unreasonably long time to bring tagatose to market".
Spherix is undoubtedly keen to get a slice of the burgeoning sweetener market - currently on an upward curve as populations become increasingly concerned about obesity and health.
Market analysts BCC Communications pitched the total worldwide value of the sweetener market in 2002 at $10.92 billion (€10.02bn).
According to a report from the company in March this year, the bulk of that total was corn sweetener, estimated at approximately $9.7 billion. But the market for sugar alcohols and HIS, although still relatively new and unexplored sweeteners, is growing rapidly. BCC predicts that newcomer tagatose is waiting in the wings with a fast growth rate estimated at more than 20-25 per cent within five years.
"While we will receive royalties on these initial sales, I am sure they will be very modest this year, but believe they will grow as additional plants are built," said Dr Gilbert V. Levin, chief executive officer of Spherix.
Arla Foods delivered the first quantities of tagatose from a new plant constructed and operated in Germany by a joint venture between Arla Foods and the German sugar company, Nordzucker. A larger plant is being planned by Arla Foods.
In April 2001 the sweetener obtained GRAS (Generally Recognised As Safe) status, allowing it to be marketed in the US as an ingredient for food products.