In the commoditized pink, blue and yellow world of sweeteners, newcomer Zsweet is looking to stand out by positioning itself as the choice of movers and shakers, and is turning to sponsorship in that pursuit.

Since introducing the brand for consumer use in January, owner Ventana Health, Inc. has signed deals with the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club and Houston’s Jets & Jewels networking event, and may sponsor additional polo-related events or other properties that draw an upscale audience, said Charles Ward, president of marketing agency Idea Works, which represents Ventana.

As the adverse effect of refined white sugar becomes a larger issue for health-conscious consumers, the $320 million sugar substitute category continues to gain attention and could be fertile ground for sponsorship sellers to till.

While Ventana’s product information highlights the fact that no-calorie Zsweet is all natural and touts other advantages over competing sweeteners, its marketing efforts focus not on its health benefits, but on its positioning as a “sugar alternative for a discerning clientele.”

That positioning is in line with the product’s price: A half-pound of Zsweet costs about $15, roughly double the price for artificial sweeteners such as Equal and Splenda.

“Our approach is to use the concept of affluence marketing,” said Tim Avila, who developed Zsweet and is Ventana’s president and chief executive officer. “People fantasize about the rich and famous. The association with polo helps position our product as a unique lifestyle brand. We call that the ‘Zsweet Life.’

“We want to reach influencers who will share our brand concept with their family and friends,” added Avila, noting that the product is targeted at women over 35 with annual HHI of $75,000-plus.

In addition to reaching end-users, Ventana is using its sponsorships to reach institutional buyers, such as hoteliers and restaurateurs who frequent polo clubs.

“Those business owners will sample Zsweet at clubs we sponsor,” said Suzy Shortt, Ventana’s event director. “If it wasn’t for the sponsorship, we might have to go through 15 people to reach that one decision-maker.”

The privately held company also is using its affiliation with polo to help gain new retail accounts. Last weekend, for example, Ventana hosted a luncheon at the Santa Barbara club, where it entertained grocery buyers, as well as celebrities and business leaders.

Zsweet is currently sold through a handful of retailers, including Whole Foods Market, Inc. and Health Food Associates, Inc.’s Akin’s Natural Foods Market.

Like the polo tie, Jets & Jewels will give Zsweet a presence before an upscale audience. The event, originally developed by Idea Works as a way for polo sponsors to mingle with the well-heeled away from the action on the field, is held at an airport hanger in Houston and is cosponsored by Cartier, Inc.; Marsh Inc.’s Private Client Services and Stanford Financial Group Co., among others.

Artificial Sweeteners Sprinkle Dollars Sparingly For Now
Zsweet has a long way to go for its all-natural status to cause the same type of stir that McNeil Nutritionals, LLC’s Splenda caused when it was introduced in 2000 and became the top-selling artificial sweetener within three years.

According to researcher Information Resources, Inc., Splenda now has 58 percent of the sugar substitute market, surpassing the category’s previous leaders, Merisant Co.’s Equal, which has 18 percent and Cumberland Packaging Corp.’s Sweet’N Low, 16 percent.

Equal and Splenda both sponsor the American Diabetes Assn. Equal presents the ADA’s Walk For Diabetes. Equal also sponsors Florida’s Coconut Grove Arts Festival.

Sweet’N Low does not currently sponsor. It signed a tie-in last year with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. for the remake of The Pink Panther. The brand uses the Pink Panther character on its packaging and is touting the film’s recent DVD release on its Web site as part of its Think Pink campaign.