Manufacturers reformulate with sugar as consumers sour on corn syrup
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture finds the consumption of sweeteners, including sugar and corn syrup, is down 15% during the past 17 years, according to Bloomberg. The decline, however, is attributed almost entirely to the collapse of corn syrup.
- High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) consumption, which tracked above that of sugar from 1986 through 2009, slipped below sugar consumption in 2010. Since then, sugar consumption has outpaced that of corn syrup, whose use has been identified as a prime source of the nation’s obesity epidemic.
- Many food and beverage manufacturers turned to corn syrup in place of sugar during the 1980s, largely for cost as sugar prices rose due to government imposed tariffs. Soft drink manufacturers actually became some of the biggest users of high-fructose corn syrup. More recently, some manufacturers, including PepsiCo, began using more conventional sugar again.
Bloomberg said the recommended added sugar limit is 29 pounds a year for men and 20 for women, according to the American Heart Association. The USDA reports that each American actually consumed 128 pounds in 2016. The nation clearly needs to cut back on sugar, but even more so its corn syrup intake. While neither is particularly healthy in large quantities, research from Princeton University and the University of Utah shows corn syrup carries more negative health effects than conventional sugar.
Health advocates have warned consumers against eating too many sugar-laden food products — soft drinks and sweetened cereals, among them. Many food manufacturers have been left scrambling to reformulate products to reduce sugar levels, particularly to remove or replace corn syrup.
Some have actually been replacing HFCS by putting sugar back in their products. PepsiCo introduced Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback in 2009, offering consumers a taste of naturally sugar-sweetened soft drinks. The reformulated, limited-time only drinks were such a hit the company decided to make them a permanent part of its product lineup. Kraft retooled its original Capri Sun kids drink recipe in 2015 to include sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener.
But don’t expect adding more sugar back into products in lieu of corn syrup as a solution or long-term trend. There has been too much backlash against high levels of sugars, HFSC and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin in food products. The Food and Drug Administration initially required food manufacturers to include how many grams of added sugars are in packaged foods and drinks as part of a redesigned nutrition facts label, but the deadline has been pushed back. State soda taxes are keeping sugar-reduction top-of-mind for consumers too.
Instead, ingredient and food manufacturers are busy trying to identify the next best low- or no-calorie “natural” and “healthy” sweeteners. A growing number of food manufacturers are experimenting with stevia in their products. They’re also exploring a host of other substances like monkfruit, date paste and sweet potatoes. The American consumer's affinity for sugary-sweet foods probably isn’t going to change. What is likely to change, however, is the source of the sweetener used in food and beverage manufacturing processes.
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