The battle over what kind of sugar Americans should be wolfing down has been raging for a few years now, exacerbated by recent “eco” and “health” trends, and propagated by Mommy Bloggers.
High fructose corn syrup (aka HFCS) is out, plain old sugar is in.
The Corn Refiners Association (CRA) is fighting back, with a vengeance. It has launched broadcast TV spots, cranked out the press releases, and launched a website with the name and url “Sweet Surprise.” Across these touch points, the trade group has attempted to debunk each and every anti-HFCS story that’s hit the wires. (For fun, Google “bad HFCS” and see what site pops up in paid search results.)
In a nutshell, the CRA claims that HFCS is manufactured and metabolized in pretty much the same manner as sugar, thus is in no way a cause of the 20% obesity rate among U.S. teens and 25%+ among U.S. adults.
On the other hand, you can see that all this is getting the CRA nowhere. A little more than half of Americans now claim to avoid high fructose if it is prominent in the ingredient list. And the trade group’s petition to the FDA last fall to change the name of HFCS to “corn sugar” was a CRA critic’s wet dream. (The association set up what is essentially a mirrored site of Sweet Surprise at cornsugar.com.)
Two problems with the Corn Refiners strategy. First, playing whack-a-mole with critics prolongs a story line of “we’re no better or worse than sugar.” All that does is ensure that consumers couldn’t care less.
Second, the focus on consumers neglects a key player in the value chain – the food manufacturer. And those guys are pulling HFCS out of their products faster than you can shuck an ear of corn. Kraft, Heinz, Hunts, Fresh & Easy, Whole Foods, Pepsi’s Sierra Mist, Sara Lee…the list gets bigger every month.
HFCS consumption is shrinking, and is now at levels last seen in 1990. By the time the Corn Refiners Association convinces the public HFCS is OK, there might not be many products left that actually contain HFCS.
At that point, the CRA might try making ethanol with it.