Holland Sweetener

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The Holland Sweetener Company (HSC) is planning to enter the low-calorie, high-intensity sweetener market which is currently dominated by NutraSweet. Below we first analyze our target industry. Next we look at what kind of response should HSC expect from NutraSweet upon its entry into this market. We will also analyze few likely scenarios that could play out and we will try to estimate the likelihood of each scenario. Based on our analysis, we will give a recommendation for HSC to plan their entry into this market.

Industry Analysis

The low-calorie, high-intensity sweetener market has been dominated by one major player, NutraSweet, with annual sales of $711M and about 80% market share (the total market in 1986 was $884M annual sales). NutraSweet, a monopolist in the industry, was able to charge premium prices and successfully capture the majority of the pie. Also, the market was expected to grow 15% annually, with a 70% projected sales growth in Europe and Canada. However, since NutraSweet’s original patents were due to expire soon (Europe/Canada market patent expires in 1987 and US in 1992), a new entrant was threatening to enter the lucrative low-calorie sweetener market – HSC.

Barriers to Entry
Throughout the monopoly period, NutraSweet had successfully built several barriers to entry as a means to protect their leadership within the industry and thwart new entrants.

Manufacturing: Aspartame manufacturing required a high initial capital expenditure (plan construction costs $100M), and long lead production time (2-3 years to bring aspartame production to speed). The facility needed to be run at or near design capacity and experienced MES of 2,000 tones annually. Also, as the first mover, NutraSweet had the advantage of increasing their manufacturing efficiencies (manufacturing costs cut by 70% over the years).

Patent Protection: NutraSweet owned several crucial patents in the U.S. and other regions. Among them were the use/mix patent for aspartame and their manufacturing process patent.

Buyers locked up: The market was dominated by two major customers - Coca-Cola and Pepsi (accounted for ~50% of the aspartame usage). NutraSweet had entered into exclusive multi-year contracts with both of them. This would prevent potential entrants from establishing sales volume necessary to support the minimum efficiency production scale necessary to compete effectively in the aspartame market.

Brand recognition: NutraSweet invested heavily in building their U.S. brand with the introduction of a “branded ingredient” campaign, which required an extensive advertising investment ($30M annually) and resulted in 98% brand recognition.

Government Approval: Lastly, the introduction of competing product and manufacturing processes required approval from authorities like the FDA in US.

Overall, the barriers to entry in this industry were pretty high.

Substitutes/ Complements
Low-calorie, high intensity sweeteners are used as an ingredient in many products but has no clear complements or substitutes. An argument can be made that sugar is not a substitute to aspartame, as it does not possess the same product qualities as a low-quality, high intensity sweetener. Additionally, we do not consider soft drinks, table-top, powdered drink mixes, frozen desserts, gum, toppings, cereal and OTC pharmaceuticals as complementary products; rather, the manufacturers of those products are customers/buyers.

To manufacture Aspartame, the raw materials needed were L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine. L-aspartic was widely available through many sources. However, there were not many suppliers for L-phenylalanine or for the technology to couple the above two ingredients to manufacture Aspartame. So, supplier power was high for supplier of this technology/provider of L-phenylalanine. This was probably the main reason why both NutraSweet and HSC had converted these suppliers into partners. Buyers...
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