Major HFCS users unlikely to ditch it for sugar, expert

By Linda Rano

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fructose corn syrup Sugar High-fructose corn syrup Us

Some food and beverage manufacturers may switch from high fructose
corn syrup (HFCS) to sugar as a result of high corn prices, but
this is only likely to be the case for relatively small scale
users, according to a consultant.

HFCS is commonly used in soft drinks and processed foods, but also some confectionery and baked goods. There have been predictions in the press that users of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the US might switch to sugar. In an article in the The Wall Street Journal​ Dalton Yancey, executive vice president of the Florida Sugar Cane League, was cited as saying soda makers are choosing sugar because of natural perceptions and the rising cost of corn. But Simon Bentley, head of research into sugars, sweeteners and starches at UK business consultancy LMC International, told that a switch by the largest producers, such as the beverage giants, would demand reformulation of products that are already well established in the market - products that are distinguished by their taste. Also, if they made the switch the companies would be banking on corn prices staying high. The very fact that big users elected to step out of the HFCS market might force the price of corn down. Supply is also a factor, he said. Sugar supply in the US is limited and if HFCS is not used the US might find itself forced to import sugar to fill the gap. This would throw up a raft of complications at a political, as well as industry, level. Bentley said that a change from HFCS to sugar by the biggest companies would demand "a major structural change​" in the US sweetener market, and it's not likely to happen. However, for smaller producers of baked products or minor level beverages the shift for economic reasons might be worth it, said Bentley. The US-based Corn Refiners Association does not believe there are grounds for changing to sugar - on either cost or health grounds. "There is no reason to switch from HFCS. HFCS is more economical and functionally superior to sugar,"​ said Audrae Erickson, the association's president. "It isequally sweet, has the same number of calories and is handled similarly by the body. HFCS isn't linked any more closely to obesity than sugar."HFCS and sugar prices ​ According to the latest figures published by the USDA Economic Research Service, Midwest markets wholesale list price for 55 per cent fructose syrup averaged 28.41 cents per pound for the first quarter of this year. The equivalent price for wholesale refined beet sugar was 26.18 cents per pound. For the same quarter a year ago the wholesale list price for 55 per cent fructose syrup averaged 24.51 cents per pound against 25.13 cents per pound for sugar. One of the main reasons quoted for the HFCS price rise is the increased use of corn for ethanol production. One company making the switch ​ Thomas Kemper Soda Co, based in Portland, Oregon, unveiled in April a new premium soda collection sweetened with natural sugar cane, including root beer and ginger ale. "Cane sugar is replacing high fructose corn syrup to better deliver on the brand's commitment to flavour, quality and natural ingredients​", said the company in a statement. Sugar's natural image ​ This portrayal of sugar as the natural alternative is important in today's health conscious, greener, market. FDA has said that it does not consider that HFCS is natural. In a statement to Geraldine June, supervisor of the Product Evaluation and Labelling team at FDA's Office of Nutrition, Labelling and Dietary Supplements said: "The use of synthetic fixing agents in the enzyme preparation, which is then used to produce HFCS, would not be consistent with our (…) policy regarding the use of the term 'natural'. Consequently, we would object to the use of the term 'natural' on a product containing HFCS." ​Erickson, however, objects to the FDA's view. "HFCS is made from natural ingredients. It contains no artificial colorings or flavorings or synthetic ingredients,"​ she said. "Even FDA agrees that HFCS is compositionally essentially the same as sugar and honey. "

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