Mintel survey reveals continued confusion about high fructose corn syrup

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fructose corn syrup, High-fructose corn syrup

Sixty-four percent of American consumers think that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is “okay in moderation” but there is still widespread confusion about the ingredient, according to data from Mintel.

The market research organization found that nearly half of consumers (46 percent) said they did not have enough information to know whether or not HFCS was harmful to their health – and 35 percent of Mintel’s survey respondents said they avoid HFCS as an ingredient.

HFCS has faced a torrent of bad publicity, particularly following the 2004 publication of an influential study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​ that noted a parallel between rising obesity and the rise in high fructose corn syrup consumption, and hypothesized that the two could be related. The study’s authors have since said they were wrong in their speculation but the backlash against HFCS has continued.

Amid the confusion about HFCS, many consumers want to be aware of how much of the sweetener is present in the foods and beverages they buy, Mintel found.

Lead innovation analyst at Mintel Krista Faron said: “Today's consumers are demanding greater labeling transparency across the board. And when it comes to an ingredient as controversial as high fructose corn syrup, the majority of Americans clearly want complete information that will help them make informed purchase decisions.”

Specifically, only 16 percent of respondents said they thought there should be no enforced disclosure of the quantity of HFCS in a product, while 57 percent said government should make companies publicize HFCS quantities, and 44 percent said that state retailers should mandate disclosure.

On the other hand, 45 percent said that manufacturers should be able to decide how much HFCS is in any food or beverage – more than the 35 percent who said government should limit its use.

Faron said: “The public wants to be informed about HFCS content, while still maintaining their freedom of choice.While they still may choose better-for-you options, they don’t necessarily want the government or anyone else imposing limits on what can or cannot be added to their food.”

The Corn Refiners Association (CRA) has made a concerted effort through advertising and marketing campaigns to convince the public that HFCS used in foods and beverages is not dissimilar in its makeup to sugar (sucrose), which contains 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose.

There are three different types of HFCS – one that is 55 percent fructose and 42 percent glucose (most commonly found in soft drinks), one that is 42 percent fructose and 58 percent glucose (usually used in food products), and one used for specialty applications that is 90 percent fructose and 10 percent glucose.

Earlier this month, the CRA petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to allow food and beverage manufacturers to use the term ‘corn sugar’ on ingredient labels instead of ‘high fructose corn syrup’, a move it said could help provide consumer clarity about the ingredient.

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