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'HFCS-free' emerging as new health claim, says Datamonitor

By Lorraine Heller , 13-Sep-2007

High fructose corn syrup is increasingly being blacklisted by food and beverage manufacturers as they attempt to market products that are perceived as 'better-for-you', says Datamonitor.

The market researcher today released figures from its Productscan Online database that reveal a "recent and dramatic" growth in new foods and beverages claiming to be free of the sweetener.



High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has until recently been a popular and common sweetener used especially in beverages, has been found by some studies to be linked to higher body weight.



Campaigners against the ingredient point to science showing that the body processes the syrup differently than other sugars due to the fructose content, leading to greater fat storage.



However, industry associations and trade bodies, such as the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), have repeatedly claimed there is no scientific evidence to suggest that HFCS is uniquely responsible for people becoming obese.



Controversy aside, manufacturers ultimately respond to what consumers want, and people in the US increasingly say they are trying to avoid the ingredient.



A 2007 International Food Information Council Foundation study found that 60 percent of American consumers said they were trying to consume less high fructose corn syrup.



The sate of Florida even went as far as trying to ban HFCS from schools last year, but the legislation was never signed into law.



In response to the consumer climate, food and beverage manufacturers have started to use 'HFCS-free' as another promotion mechanism to appeal to health-conscious consumers.



According to Datamonitor's Productscan Online, 146 new food and beverage products have been launched worldwide proclaiming that they do not contain any high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).



This compares to just 54 products that announced they were HFCS-free in 2006 and 53 products that made the same claim in 2005. In 2003, just 6 new beverages made label claims that they were free of high fructose corn syrup.



"Until recently, a handful of small companies said their products were free of high fructose corn syrup," said Tom Vierhile, Director of Datamonitor's Productscan Online.



"What's new today is that some of the larger packaged food and beverage companies are removing high fructose corn syrup from their products including Kraft Foods, Dannon and Del Monte Foods."



The trend, which is so far heavily concentrated in the US, has seen three new lines launched by Kraft earlier this year. These are Back to Nature Chewy Trail Mix Bars, Fruit & Grain Bars and Bakery Squares Bars.



Dannon's Danimals Xtreme Drinkables Bursting with Fruit Flavor are marketed as having "only the good stuff" - which means no high fructose corn syrup. Del Monte Bloom Energy Drink, also HFCS-free, is described as "a new energy drink specially formulated for women that you can feel good about". Both products are new in the US.



According to Datamonitor, a move away from HFCS could be opening up the door for alternative sweeteners like agave and stevia. Indeed, the potential for the latter has already been pinpointed by industry giants Cargill and Coca-Cola, who have teamed up to develop Rebiana, a 'natural' calorie-free sweetener based on stevia.



However, for the time being stevia is not approved for use in food and beverage products in the US, which leaves room in the market for other natural alternatives as consumers start to move away not only from what makes them fat, but also from what is considered artificial or chemically processed.

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