For jaded consumers who think their concerns aren't heard or responded to: think again. In a recent Advertising Age article: "Marketers Answer Call to Eliminate High-Fructose Corn Syrup," grassroots concerns are leading to food manufacturers reformulating their products without the popular sweetener.

Nutritionists have long expressed concern over the dietary implications of high-fructose corn syrup. That has led, in turn, to concerns among moms, affecting their supermarket choices for their families. Lots of moms have been spreading their concerns online for some time now. Pressure has been steadily mounting forcing CPG companies to respond by switching to refined white sugar, honey and stevia among other choices.
The fact is, HFCS has been added to more and more products in the past few decades because it's much cheaper. It has been blamed as one of the major culprits for the country's alarming rise in obesity. To be fair, nutritionists will tell you that refined white sugar is almost as bad as HFCS because it is also highly processed. The human body can't break either down easily, so they get stored as fat. Even worse: they spike blood sugar levels.
Food companies are responding by not only removing HFCS in many cases; they're also cutting down on sugar in their products, as well. The article cites some examples:

  • Kraft Foods has removed HFCS from its Bulls-Eye BBQ sauces and Wheat Thins crackers.

  • Kraft has cut 25% of the sugar from its Capri Sun drinks.

  • Pepsico's Snapple premium juices and teas were reformulated without HFCS.

  • Costco is promoting Mexican-made Coca-Cola in selected markets because it's sweetened with sugar rather than HFCS.

  • Starbucks has removed trans-fasts and HFCS from its bakery products.

All of this has prompted the Corn Refiners Association to strike back. Ads prepared by Chicago-based DDB depict people debating about corn sweeteners. Their message: "HFCS adds the same calories as sugar or honey–it's fine if consumed moderately." Chicago PR agency Weber Shandwick has also been retained to spread the same message to "mommy bloggers."
According to TNS Media Intelligence, the Corn Refiners Association has spent $12 million in media messaging during the first half of 2009. The association's president, Audrae Erickson said that: "the current consumer backlash hasn't affected the corn refiners' wallet yet." That might be true since many products are still being formulated with HFCS. But Ms. Erickson's statement can't hide the fact that current public disapproval has led to her organization's need to spend heftily on advertising and PR in an attempt to reverse negative public opinion.

  • What do you think of the Corn Refiners Association strategy in citing HFCS is no worse than refined sugar? Is that a good idea since both substances are highly refined and problematic?

  • What do you think of the "when used in moderation it's fine" strategy? Especially knowing that a high percentage of convenience, processed and grocery shelf foods are made with HFCS?

  • Would you, as a consumer, be willing to pay more for products that are sweetened with unrefined sugar, stevia or honey rather than the cheaper HFCS?

I'd love to hear from you.

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Ted Mininni is president and creative director of Design Force, a leading brand-design consultancy.

LinkedIn: Ted Mininni