Merisant, maker of Equal, files for bankruptcy

NEW YORK, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Merisant Worldwide Inc, a maker of low-calorie tabletop sweeteners such as Equal and Canderel, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Friday, under the weight of too much debt.

The privately held Chicago-based company and five affiliates filed for protection from creditors with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware. Its Merisant Co affiliate said it had $331.1 million of assets and $560.7 million of debts as of Nov. 30, a filing shows.

Equal has faced pressure in recent years from rival sweeteners including Splenda, which is made by Tate & Lyle Plc TATE.L and marketed by McNeil Nutritionals, a unit of Johnson & Johnson JNJ.N.

On Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Merisant’s credit rating to “Ca,” a low “junk” grade, citing “current bank credit markets and the company’s weak credit metrics.”

Moody’s said Merisant would have had trouble refinancing debt scheduled to mature on Jan 11. Merisant’s sales totaled $277 million in the year ended Sept. 30, Moody’s said. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)