Not a Sweet Idea: Rebranding HFCS as “Corn Sugar”

The battle against high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) seemed to be leaning towards victory. Consumers have become increasingly weary of food products containing HFCS.  Health concerns, such as obesity and diabetes, have been increasingly linked to the sweetener. In response to consumer demand, companies have been removing HFCS from their product lines. There is a downward trend of HFCS in foodstuffs.  More and more companies have been moving back to real sugar instead of HFCS as a sweetener.  A shift in consumer preferences demands it. Just as we were gaining strong momentum away from HFCS as a sweetener, the Corn Refiners Association now wants the US Food and Drug Administration approval to rename HFCS into corn sugar.
Heinz, recently launched ketchup sweetened with real sugar, dubbed Simply Heinz, along-side their HFCS ketchup products.  Hunt’s did Heinz one better, by transitioning its entire ketchup line away from HFCS.   It is clear that there is a demand for non-HFCS products, otherwise businesses would not make it.Now, a public relations campaign promoting the name change of HFCS to corn sugar, seeks to reverse this downward trend.  Will the new name breathe new life to a dying product?  On the contrary, the name change will probably do the opposite.  At worst, the name change will act as a life support machine, keeping HFCS alive long enough to say our farewells.  At best, the name change will draw unwanted attention to the health ramifications any type of sugar endures.  After all, their website states that sugar is sugar.  And as Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and food studies, suggests with any type of sugar, “Eat less.”

How did HFCS become the de facto sweetener in soft drinks and processed foods in the first place?  It is cheap, cheaper than real sugar.  Why is HFCS cheap?  The United States federal government provides billions of dollars of corn subsidies, thus making HFCS less costly to produce.   Perhaps ending corn subsidies would finally put to rest HFCS.  If HFCS were to stand the market test on its own merit, it would fail.  It would be too expensive to produce, and would not be as financially attractive for food makers to incorporate into their food products.

Will the new name confuse people?  Whether it is called high fructose corn syrup or corn sugar makes no difference. There will be little difference to consumers that do not read the ingredient labels, since they do not read ingredient labels. Consumers that obsess over product ingredient labels will continue to avoid products with either label, HFCS or corn sugar.   No re-branding effort can touch that consumer base.   The renaming scheme is not a sweet idea.

In the end, HFCS and corn sugar are one and the same.  Same unhealthy product, disguised under a different name.

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

9 responses

    1. Hi Maren, Unfortunately, I don’t know of any organized effort to combat this. However, I do suspect this is only the beginning of a long fight, as the Corn Growers Association is at the petition stage. From my understanding, the change has officially yet to take effect, yet it is moving towards the name change direction. Here is the original press release: Perhaps the new would be an adequate venue to voice concern, the name change has reached that stage.

  1. There is zero evidence that HFCS is any worse for you than regular sugar – it’s the same chemical. However, the sheer quantity of it that people ingest, due to it’s cheapness, is the problem. And the fact that low-grade junk food has become so common, even for kids.

    So, really, this should be all about ending the ridiculous subsidies for corn, not about banning or puttering over a particular ingredient.

    1. Both are distinct chemicals, HFCS being a “free sugar”, and sugar being a disaccharide:

      I personally would minimize both in my diet, as both have been shown to be connected to obesity and diabetes. Some would say HFCS more so than sugar, others would say just as much as sugar.

      I most definitely agree, the bigger issue is ending corn subsidies. To me, it makes minimal difference whether it is called HFCS or corn sugar, because it is still being subsidized.

    2. DaveMC, please educate yourself. You are incorrect.

      From a study done at Princeton.

      “A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

      In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.

      “Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn’t true, at least under the conditions of our tests,” said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese — every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don’t see this; they don’t all gain extra weight.”

  2. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet;” This quote from Romeo and Juliet comes to mind. If we keep on producing HFCS or whatever the new name will be, people will still eat it.

  3. CORN SYRUP IS MADE FROM 80% GENETICALLY MODIFIED CORN.It is bad for you in so many ways.
    You don’t feel full and continue to eat it and eat it! That is also PROVEN!

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