Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rebranding High Fructose Corn Syrup

What happens when people begin attacking your disgusting product? Just rebrand it!

That's what the American food industry is doing with high fructose corn syrup. Under attack for being terrible for you and for infecting our entire food supply, they are renaming it "corn sugar." From a corporate perspective, this makes a lot of sense. Americans don't understand where any of their farm products come from anyway. If you asked Americans where sugar came from, I'd bet less than 20% would be able to say from sugar beets. Maybe 30-40% would say sugar cane. Both are correct of course. Since sugar is not closely associated with a single plant anymore, doesn't "corn sugar" sound like the same thing.

To me, the biggest problem with HCFS isn't so much that it exists. It's that the food industry has inserted it into everything, creating a gigantic national sweet tooth in products where sugars of any kind don't need to be--peanut butter, ketchup, bread. The artificality of it is bad too, but so much of the food we eat comes from chemical labs that it's hardly worth picking on HCFS for this alone. I mean, what is a Diet Coke anyway? A giant lab experiment.

Also, HCFS tastes gross. While many of the attacks on HCFS come over issues of health and our national addiction to corn products, I think they miss a major point. The soda companies are marketing products with natural sugars in them again because they taste much much better. It started with the so-called "Mexican Coke," which is really just that HCFS hadn't been effectively pushed in Mexico. Those bottles trickled back up to the U.S. for the growing Latino population and food hipsters rediscovered the glories of this drink.

This may be a really effective marketing strategy. But I don't think marketing can entirely cover-up the problems with HCFS. It's not just a simple advertising question--it's a question of land use, health, and most importantly, taste.