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Like olestra, NutraSweet Co.'s Simplesse is a victim of its own hype.

Unlike olestra, the all-natural fat substitute got to market with relative ease-and can take its place as the first fat substitute approved by the Food & Drug Administration.

In 1988, NutraSweet created a big stir when it told the world about its breakthrough no-fat, no-cholesterol ingredient. Procter & Gamble Co. was hardly thrilled to have a competitor to olestra enter the race. Nor was FDA, because NutraSweet hadn't sought approval for Simplesse.

NutraSweet believed the ingredient, made from all-natural milk and egg white protein, would be treated as having "generally recognized as safe" status. But FDA said "not so fast." So the company submitted a petition.

The approval process for something like Simplesse is much less time-consuming, because it is made from foods already deemed safe. Completely new foods like olestra or aspartame (branded as NutraSweet) must undergo rigorous safety testing.

For that reason, the Simplesse launch was delayed only until 1990, when it was launched in Simple Pleasures frozen dairy dessert.

In addition to that NutraSweet brand, Simplesse is found as an ingredient in more than 20 products such as cheese, sour cream, creamers and others.

But Simple Pleasures was met with mixed reaction by consumers. According to Information Resources Inc., sales of Simple Pleasures plummetted 59.3% to $2.2 million for the 52 weeks ended March 27, compared with the same period a year ago. Also in that period, sales of Simple Pleasures Lite fell 65.6% to $3.8 million.

"How the business is doing is a matter of expectation," says Russ Klettke, NutraSweet PR manager. "When it was first introduced, people were expecting a home run. Instead, we got to first base. .*.*. Expectations grew far beyond what was realistic."

Others-including nutritionists and financial analysts-say Simplesse has taste problems.

"If something doesn't meet the taste test, consumers won't buy it," says Dr. C. Wayne Calloway, the endocrinologist/nutritionist who chairs P&G's Olestra Scientific Review Council.

NutraSweet isn't giving up. "The marketplace is interested in low-fat products," Mr. Klettke says. "We think the potential is there."

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