Korean retailers brace for WHO designation of aspartame sweetener as cancer risk

2023.07.12 12:29:01 | 2023.07.12 13:56:07

Aspartame [Image source: Gettyimagesbank]이미지 확대

Aspartame [Image source: Gettyimagesbank]



South Korean retailers are moving swiftly to respond to the anticipated move by the World Health Organization (WHO) to label aspartame, a common sugar substitute found in diet sodas, as possible carcinogen on Friday.

Emart Inc. announced on Wednesday that it will replace the aspartame contained in its private label brand (PB) zero coke and five sparkling aid drinks with other ingredients in a move to address consumer concerns concerning aspartame.

The big box retailer stated that it is currently negotiating details with the manufacturers. The replacement process is expected to take approximately two months. The remaining inventory of the related products will still be on the shelves during this period, the retailer added, with no plans for additional production of these items.

Other discount store chains, Lotte Mart and Homeplus Co. reportedly do not have any aspartame-containing products in their current in-house brand product lines. However, they plan to closely monitor related trends and establish contingency plans for various scenarios.

Convenience store chain CU released an aspartame-free makgeolli, traditional Korean rice wine, earlier this month in partnership with Paik Jong-won, a celebrity chef and the chief executive officer of The Born Korea. CU plans to exclude aspartame from other rice wines being released as well.

The local market, in the meantime, has not been greatly affected since the initial rise in aspartame concerns last month.

According to Lotte Mart, sales of makgeolli fell by 5 percent in the first 10 days of this month compared to the same period last month, but sales of zero-calorie beverages increased by 5 percent.

Convenience stores, which are frequently used by younger people, are also showing no signs of particular change.

At CU, sales of makgeolli and zero-calorie beverages increased during the same period by 2.3 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.

At Emart 24, sales of makgeolli increased by 6 percent while those of zero-calorie beverages fell by about 4 percent.

“Considering the acceptable daily intake of aspartame determined by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, people don‘t seem to be overly worried about the risk of aspartame,” said an official at Lotte Mart.

However, some suggest that an official declaration by the WHO may change the atmosphere and eventually impact sales.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety is reportedly planning to prepare a safety management plan following a risk assessment that examines public intake in line with the WHO’s decision.

During the regular press briefing last week, the ministry stated that the average intake of aspartame among Koreans is relatively low compared to other countries.

According to the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, it is deemed safe for an adult weighing 70 kilograms to consume 2.8 grams of aspartame every day for their entire life. The ministry added that Koreans‘ average intake is about 0.12 percent of that recommended amount.

By Pulse

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