So, you probably know that I'm currently enrolled in a part-time professional MBA program which I am really enjoying (even though its been quite a change to get back into homework and classes!). I really like that we are given so much leeway and so I have been really focusing on incorporating my interests into the assignments. In my current marketing class, we are required to complete 2 article reviews on articles of our choosing that somehow relate to marketing. For my second article, I chose to review a New York Times piece on the villainization of high fructose corn syrup and the favoring of sugar. With so much talk about organic food in the blog world, especially in Emily's blog, I thought I would share.... You can check out the original article here.
Sugar is Back on Food Labels, This Time as a Selling Point
With obesity becoming more and more of an epidemic and topic of discussion, the stream of nutritional guidelines, recommendations, and “rules” barraging consumers appears endless and fickle. As a recent New York Times article, “Sugar is Back on Food Labels, This Time as a Selling Point” discusses, one of the latest trends within the food and drink industry has been the denouncement of products sweetened with high fructose corn syrup in favor of those sweetened by natural sugar. This denouncement has led industry giants like Pepsi, ConAgra, Kraft Foods, and Pizza Hut to begin using sugar as opposed to high fructose corn syrup in their products.
Why the Bad Rap?
High fructose corn syrup has become synonymous with the unhealthy, overabundant eating habits that lead so many Americans to dangerous levels of obesity. Is the reputation deserved? Many doctors and scientific reports have established that high fructose corn syrup is no worse or better than sugar, and vice versa. As pediatric physician Dr. Robert H. Lustig recounts: “The argument about which is better for you, sucrose or HFCS, is garbage. Both are equally bad for your health” (para. 19).
Despite the experts’ opinions, consumers will not shed their perceptions of high fructose corn syrup as inherently unnatural (it can only be created through complex chemical reactions) and as such, less desirable than sugar. The case of high fructose corn syrup is further disadvantaged by the link of its creation in 1980 (and its subsequent use in everyday products like soda, bread, yogurt, sauce) to the beginning of the obesity epidemic.
The current economic climate, where consumers often feel little control, is often cited as a propellant of the sugar wagon; organic food products offer little question as to their handling, ingredients, and preparation. Chefs and food enthusiasts have also added to the trend by holding cane sugar far above other sweeteners.
The reality of the situation is that both high fructose corn syrup and sugar are equal in their propensity to pack on the pounds when consumed in high amounts. The frustration of nutritionists, doctors, and health gurus at yet another fad which will have little effect on the American obesity problem is far overshadowed by the marketing opportunities available for companies that are quick to make the switch from high fructose corn syrup to sugar. As so aptly stated by Jim Sieple, senior vice president of Log Cabin syrup, “For consumers, their perception is reality.” (para. 23) It is in the best interest of food providers to cater to that reality. Misguided or not, the long list of nutrition concerned consumers will feel better enjoying that Pepsi Natural as opposed to its bad corn syrup laden cousin, Pepsi.
The Corn Refiners Association
It is not difficult to comprehend the negative effects this trend has upon the reputation of the Corn Refiners Association and the companies associated with it. To try and curb the decline of high fructose corn syrup’s reputation and use, the association put together an ad campaign featuring mothers, families, and young healthy people enjoying popsicles and drinks containing high fructose corn syrup. When asked about their risky decision, each begged the question, “What’s so bad about corn syrup?”
While the ad was a good attempt at reaching the most obvious target audiences (mother’s feeding kids and younger adults), it was a bit comical and ill timed; the sugar train was already in full force and the Corn Refiners Association appeared as an unfamiliar and somewhat foreign organization to the television advertising community.
The blow to the proliferation of high fructose corn syrup has effectively left it standing as the scapegoat for the results of nearly 30 years of seriously unhealthy food consumption. However, the trends in the food industry, specifically concerning what is healthy and unhealthy, are so transient and brief that there remains hope for the sweetener and the Corn Refiners Association at large.