The Japanese maker of aspartame is understood to have a sweet tooth for Tate & Lyle’s Splenda business and is mulling making a bid for the division.
Tate & Lyle said last week that it was still considering how to maximise the returns from its struggling Splenda sucralose business and will decide on its future at a board meeting later this month.
Ajinomoto, the Japanese firm which also manufactures the food additive mono-sodium glutamate which is often used in Asian food, is understood to be interested in making an approach for Splenda but has yet to approach the FTSE 250 company’s board.
Tate & Lyle, run by chief executive Javad Ahmed, sells the sucralose used in Splenda to the world’s consumer goods giants for use in food and drink manufacturing.
Despite Ajinomoto’s interest, it is understood that Tate & Lyle’s board are leaning towards keeping the business and could instead shake-up business operations to make it more profitable rather than steer it towards a full exit.
It is thought that if Ajinomoto is unable to buy the whole of the sucralose business from Tate & Lyle it could still be interested in the consumer rights to the brand.
US conglomerate Johnson & Johnson owns the consumer rights to Splenda, which is known for its yellow coloured sachets found in cafes and restaurants.
In December, Johnson & Johnson hired Goldman Sachs to explore a separate sale of its Splenda brand, which has annual revenues of around $300m. (£XXm)
In February Tate & Lyle issued its second profit warning for the year after slashing sucralose prices in order to compete with cheaper Chinese producers.
Its performance was also hit by a severe winter in the US which disrupted the production of its corn syrup, meaning it could not meet demand.
The group’s troubles were then exarcebated by the closure of its factory in Singapore after two workers died in an accident.
In 2010 the £2.9bn company, which once refined half the sugar Britain consumed, agreed the sale of its 150-year-old UK sugar and golden syrup business to American Sugar Refining for £211m. The sale included the Golden Syrup factory in London.
Splenda and its artificial sweetner rivals have been hit by the rising popularity of natural sweetners such as stevia.
Drinks giant Coca-Cola launched Coke Life with the natural sweetener last year. Analysts believe that the stevia market is expected to account for around 15pc of the overall sweetner market by 2010 and be worth around $560m.
Taste Test: does Coca Cola Life taste better?
Ajinomoto has recently launched a rebranding of aspartame, calling it AminoSweet, in the wake of a backlash by health campaigners.
Tate & Lyle declined to comment while Johnson & Johnson and Ajinomoto did not return calls for comment.
By Ashley Armstrong