More companies are moving away from High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) as a sweetener in food products, replacing it with sugar. The implication is that HFCS is unnatural (and is bad for you), while sugar is a natural product (and is not bad for you).
As an example, here is a recent announcement about a change in ingredients for a popular brand of ketchup:
OMAHA, Neb., May 17 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Hunt’s®, a ConAgra Foods brand, is pleased to announce that it has removed the high fructose corn syrup from every bottle of its ketchup products. Hunt’s 100% Natural Ketchup brings forth the naturally rich tomato flavor of Hunt’s tomatoes and contains only five simple ingredients: tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt and other seasonings, with no high fructose corn syrup, artificial ingredients or preservatives.
“In direct response to consumer demand(1), Hunt’s is pleased to offer ketchup sweetened with sugar and containing only five simple ingredients,” said Ryan Toreson, Hunt’s Ketchup brand manager. “Parents are looking for wholesome meals and ingredients they recognize—and the taste of Hunt’s ketchup is something both kids and adults love. Even with the new recipe, we have maintained the same great tangy, sweet taste that Hunt’s has always had and that consumers tell us they prefer.”
Hunt’s 100% Natural Ketchup began rolling out to major markets nationwide in mid-April. Consumers should be able to find product on shelves everywhere by mid-May. Suggested retail pricing for the new Hunt’s ketchup recipe is the same as the previous recipe.
(1) The 2009 HealthFocus® Trend Report indicated consumer concern over high fructose corn syrup has risen from 27% of shoppers being extremely or very concerned in 2004 to 45% of shoppers in 2008.
However, many experts agree that removing HFCS from the food supply will not improve the healthfulness or nutritional content of our diet. Suggesting otherwise misleads consumers about the real reasons for weight gain, obesity, and other health-related issues.
What the company says: (From the FAQ section of its website)
More than ever, consumers . . . express a preference for food items that are natural or made with ingredients they may have at home. And we’re listening and providing consumers with what they want—an entire line of ketchup that is 100% Natural, with 0% high fructose corn syrup.
The implication: High Fructose Corn Syrup is not natural.
What our experts say: High Fructose Corn Syrup is no “less natural” or “more processed” than table sugar. Cane sugar undergoes as much – if not more – processing than HFCS. Sugar cane must be harvested, milled, refined, and sometimes bleached before it becomes table sugar. HFCS also meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for using the term “natural”–it contains NO artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives.
What another company says: A Kraft spokesman, in an August 2009 interview with Crain’s Chicago Business, said, “We saw some consumers were interested in products without high fructose corn syrup, so we decided as part of this quality improvement to eliminate (it).”
The implication: Sugar is a better quality ingredient than HFCS.
What our experts say: Both HFCS and sugar contain about 4 calories per gram. According to the American Dietetic Association, HFCS has approximately the same amount of fructose (despite the name “high fructose”) as both table sugar and honey. According to a 2008 American Medical Association report, “it appears unlikely that HFCS contributes more to obesity or other conditions than sucrose [table sugar].” The AMA further states there is no need to restrict the use of HFCS in the food supply, or to require warning labels on products containing HFCS.
What the company says: (online ad)
The implication: Removing HFCS improves the product.
What we say: Given the science and the research behind the ADA and AMA findings, there is no evidence to suggest that any product is made “better” by substituting sugar for HFCS. Rather, the evidence suggests that companies are making the switch in the interest of marketing and into the “natural” foods movement.
Business management website BNET writer Katherine Glover agrees that image is everything. She says, “Fact, however, often has little effect on public perception, and if sugar is what people trust, companies that take advantage of that could see some seriously sweet benefits.”
From the website Food Navigator USA.com: “Last week, the vice president of marketing for Snapple told this website that the switch to sugar in its iced teas was all about “delivering great taste.” But he said there’s nothing wrong with the taste of HFCS–indeed, the company sees the two sweeteners as ‘about the same.'”
From the website BevReview.com: “(A Pepsi spokeswoman) noted that ‘these products were not created because of any health concerns. There is a lot of misinformation circulating about HFCS, but the truth is that it’s made from corn and contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives. HFCS is essentially the same as table sugar and is metabolized the same.'”
The bottom line: None of the brands that has made the switch–Hunt’s, Pepsi, Kraft, or Starbucks–has said that HFCS is unhealthy. Rather, the current trend toward “organic” and “natural” foods is being seized upon by companies to maintain and grow market share. Major food marketers look at sugar as part of that equation.