High fructose corn syrup sales down 11%

Posted June 2, 2010 at 8:07 a.m.

ct-biz-adm-web.jpgA tanker truck carries corn syrup at the Archer Daniels Midland Company plant in Decatur, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Associated Press | Fans of natural foods have tried for years to
push the ubiquitous sweetener high fructose corn syrup off Americans’ dinner tables and out of their restaurants and grocery stores. It seems to be working.

U.S. use of the sweetener found in most soft drinks, cereals and a range of other products dropped 11 percent between 2003 and 2008, the most recent year figures were available. A number of companies also have stopped using corn syrup in some or all products, including Hunt’s ketchup, Snapple, Gatorade and Starbucks’ baked goods.

Producers blame the decline on a campaign that argues corn syrup is behind rising obesity in the U.S. and that favors sugar over the refined product, although most nutritionists find little difference between the two. They also accuse the sugar industry of pushing a campaign that has helped sugar refining increase about 7 percent from 2003 to 2008.

As of 2008, high fructose corn syrup makers produced an average of 53.1 pounds (24.1 kilograms) a year for every American, compared with 65.7 pounds (29.8 kilograms) of sugar produced for use in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency doesn’t track consumption.

“I think what we’re seeing is a real awakening of public interest and public consciousness of the food we eat,” said activist Curt Ellis, a producer of the 2004 movie “King Corn” about subsidies that helped corn become a dominant U.S. crop.

Ellis added, though, that he wished Americans would stop eating so many sweeteners, whether refined from corn or sugar.

High fructose corn syrup was first developed in the 1950s but didn’t come into widespread use until the 1970s and 1980s. It’s made from corn starch, which is processed into corn syrup that is high in glucose. Added enzymes turn the glucose into fructose, a sugar found in some sweet fruits and honey.

Quotas and tariffs imposed on imported sugar in the late 1970s prompted food manufacturers to begin relying more on corn syrup. Coca Cola and Pepsi both switched from sugar to high fructose corn syrup in the 1980s.

Producers don’t welcome the trend away from corn syrup, but seem positioned to handle it. Companies such as Archer Daniels Midland Co., Cargill Inc. and Corn Products International sell dozens of corn- and grain-derived products, and although U.S. sales are dropping, they’re selling more in some other countries, especially Mexico.

Food industry observers also note the sweetener’s biggest buyers — like Coke and Pepsi — remain huge customers. That’s not likely to change unless sugar prices drop so low they can’t resist.

“As long as they don’t switch, there’ll be a huge market for it,” said Ron Sterk, associate editor of the trade publications Milling & Baking News and Food Business News.

Wall Street analysts who follow the companies have noted increased shipments to Mexico, where there appears to be little concern among consumers.

“We don’t see the pushback in the other areas at the moment,” Corn Products CEO Ilene Gordon said during an April conference call with analysts.

The U.S. campaign against high fructose corn syrup seemed to begin with a 2004 study by a pair of researchers, one at Louisiana State University and one at the University of North Carolina, that suggested a link between the substance and obesity.

Sterk said the study came just as more people were feeling uncomfortable with processed foods.

“The timing was just right because there was a whole — and there still is — a whole move toward natural things, and it was able to piggyback on that,” he said.

High fructose corn syrup producers have made clear they think the sugar industry has played a role, too.

“Who benefits from the disparagement of high fructose corn syrup?” asked Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association.

A spokeswoman for the sugar industry trade group, the Sugar Association, declined comment.

Nutritionally, there’s very little difference between the substances, and people digest them in the same way, said Bruce Chasy, a professor of food safety and nutrition at the University of Illinois.

High fructose corn syrup, he said, is slightly sweeter than sugar.

“Other than that, there’s no real difference,” he said. “Your body’s going to metabolize it the same way.”

Still, customer concerns are driving some companies to make changes.

“We heard loud and clear from our customers that they want food, when they purchase food at Starbucks, to be made of high quality ingredients and from simple recipes,” said Starbucks spokeswoman Sanja Gould.

In June 2009, the company stopped using high fructose corn syrup in baked products. Gould wouldn’t discuss how the move affected sales, but she said feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

The Corn Refiners Association launched its own national advertising blitz in 2008 aimed at rehabilitating high fructose corn syrup’s image. It included television commercials featuring a mother pouring a child a flavored drink and a younger woman offering her boyfriend a Popsicle, then talking about how the sweetener is made from corn, has no artificial ingredients and is fine in moderation.

“There was no balanced dialogue,” Erickson said of the reasoning for the campaign. “It was all erroneous.”



  1. Leslie June 2, 2010 at 8:36 a.m.

    Good – this stuff is total junk and bad for you – it’s contributing to obesity in America. Also, it’s a product of US subsidies to grow corn – a stupid idea.

  2. Robert T. June 2, 2010 at 8:45 a.m.

    How about we all just stop eating and drinking so much sweet stuff? This includes zero calorie artificial sweeteners. There is a link between how conditioned our minds are to eating sweets and how easy it is to gain weight. Cut out the over-refined, over-sweetened, sodium overload foods: you’ll feel better, you won’t have to worry about corn subsidies, “sugar slavery”, or government meddling in sodium regulation. Are we not aware that we the consumers are responsible for the messes we have made? And we need to change the way we live if we ever want to improve obesity/heart disease/you name it?

  3. Jack June 2, 2010 at 8:58 a.m.

    I am very happy that there is a growing awareness to the ingredients that are being used in our food. King Corn and other documentaries like it are very interesting and enlightening (they are also short…)… so find one and watch!

  4. Robert M. June 2, 2010 at 9:07 a.m.

    At first, I was blind for buying HFCS foods. Unknown to me I gained weight and my count of triglyercin rise because I drank average of 2 liters soda per day. Then I found out about HCFS I cut them off for good! Count of Triglycerin decrease dramatically. No wonder we see many kids are having obesity problem and the sellers of HFCS kept us in the dark until the truth comes out! Those nutrutionists are getting money from corn sellers to hush the truth!

  5. CiceroUnga June 2, 2010 at 9:20 a.m.

    I just have a few words for all of you: Tofu, bean sprouts, rutabegas, plain yogurt with blueberries, and hummus with pita. You can have a body like mine within a few months.

  6. mike June 2, 2010 at 9:24 a.m.

    Numerous studies have linked HFCS to obesity vs. sugar. Why does the corn lobby keep pretending that never happened? And HFCS is NOT natural just because it’s made from natural products. If that were the case one could argue that plastic is a natural product…after all, it’s made from oil. By that logic, there’s no such thing as “artificial”.
    Also, they say HFCS is safe in moderation, while at the same time weaseling it into darn near every commonly consumed product on the shelf. It’s in BREAD for crying out loud. It makes it almost impossible for the average consumer to moderate their intake of it without spending hours reading every nutritional label on every product they buy.

  7. jfx June 2, 2010 at 10:34 a.m.

    Sugar prices will drop if the US government stops the tarriffs and import restrictions on sugar. Because, a domestic sugar crop is of strategic importance, I guess, worth $$$ in taxpayer subsidies. Not.

  8. rich June 2, 2010 at 10:51 a.m.

    See this is how the US government protects us. They restrict import nature sugar with a tarriffs and subsidize high fructose corn syrup. How about if people decide what is good for themselves by not making one cheaper than the other artifically. Why does the invention of Governments has cause the most suffering of lives?

  9. Bill Melater June 3, 2010 at 12:12 a.m.

    Look at Americans in 1980 vs 2010. HFCS. That’s all you need to know. You don’t see sugar growers with ads going “it’s just like HFCS and fine in moderation”, now do you. HFCS SUCKS just like Ethanol from Corn.

  10. Jean at The Delightful Repast June 3, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    This is the best news I’ve heard all day! I don’t consume a lot of soft drinks, but felt I had to buy some Pepsi Throwback (made with real sugar) when it was offered for a limited time. Everyone I served it to agreed that it tasted a lot better than standard Pepsi with HFCS. Now if only they would come out with a less sweet version, say 25% less sugar.

  11. Ralph Banuelos June 17, 2010 at 11:58 a.m.

    Keep up the good work buddy!