Nutrasweet planning fitness center Company shifts focus from food business.

September 11, 1991|By New York Times

Shifting its focus from the food ingredient business, Nutrasweet Co. has said that it was planning to open a fitness center for people who are at least 50 years old.

Nutrasweet, a unit of Monsanto Co., is best known for its sweetener by the same name. It has been under intense pressure to develop new products because its patent for the sugar substitute expires next year, opening the way for competition that will force the company to reduce prices.

Nutrasweet's other product, Simplesse, a fat substitute introduced last year, has so far been regarded as a disappointment.

Monsanto attributed weak sales for Simplesse in part to "heavy competition in the fat-free market."

George Rosenbaum, president of Leo J. Shapiro and Associates, a market research firm, said yesterday that both of Nutrasweet's businesses were "in fundamental jeopardy." But Rosenbaum said the fitness center would help the company by providing it with a laboratory to test fat-free food products.

So far, the company plans to open a fitness center next year in Newton, Mass. Called the Wellbridge Center, it was designed with experts on nutrition and aging from Tufts University and will offer counseling on exercise and nutrition.

The company indicated that other centers would eventually be opened around the country, but declined to elaborate.

Robert E. Flynn, chairman and chief executive of Nutrasweet, was not available for comment, but a statement from his office seemed to anticipate criticism that the venture would steer the company away from its main business. The exercise center "fits well into the vision" of the company, the statement said.

"We have been exploring new business opportunities which would enable consumer to live healthier lives," it said. "Exercise is a natural extension of our company vision."

Rosenbaum said the new centers were likely to include snack bars serving Nutrasweet products.

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