In Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare posed the question “What’s in a name?” Fast forward more than four hundred years and the answer might be: apparently a lot!
In the food industry today, the names “natural,” “organic,” and “locally grown” appear to be names that have significant marketing caché. Are consumers willing to pay more for these monikers on a label? Do these terms equate to healthier products for which consumers should pay more—especially in a tight economy? Absolutely not! Affordability and value are still king when consumers select products on grocery store shelves. And tight economic times find consumers striving to stretch their food dollars even more.
What about the name of another ingredient, the type of sweetener the product contains? Here again ‘name’ enters into the equation for food and beverage products if you stroll down the grocery store aisle. There are many names for sweeteners today: sugar, agave nectar, fruit juice concentrate, evaporated cane juice, honey, and high fructose corn syrup. Although not high in fructose at all, this natural sweetener made from corn has been significantly mischaracterized of late. And now, some manufacturers are engaging in “ingredient name Switcheroo” in an attempt to woo consumers by replacing high fructose corn syrup—a type of corn sugar—with its fraternal twin: sugar.
The two ingredients are equally caloric, contain almost equal parts of the two simple sugars fructose and glucose, and are handled the same by the body. These science-based facts, supported by the American Medical Association, the American Dietetic Association, and numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, are no longer in dispute. A sugar is a sugar whether it comes from cane, corn, or beets.
As consumers are cutting back in this tight economy, some companies are looking for a leg up on the competition to increase market share—despite the fact that there are no nutritional differences between sugar and high fructose corn syrup. These Switcheroo companies are hoping to improve their quarterly earnings at the expense of consumers—and consumers will likely be paying more at checkout. Have these tactics gained traction by increasing market share or sales? No. As expected, consumers are a loyal bunch. They continue to purchase foods and beverages that provide value, quality, and are preferred products that their family enjoys.
And value, quality, and product choice are all benefits that the versatile sweetener high fructose corn syrup provides. High fructose corn syrup remains the most price competitive, widely available caloric sweetener on the market. Currently at about half the price of sugar, high fructose corn syrup unquestionably delivers on value for food and beverage manufacturers and keeps grocery bills affordable for consumers.
And quality? If you consider moisture retention, fruit and spice enhancement, product freshness and stability, lower freezing point, aiding in fermentation, keeping ingredients evenly mixed, reducing tartness and acidity, preserving color and texture, reducing water activity, and providing crispness and clarity of its sweetness profile, then high fructose corn syrup indeed delivers on quality.
Many well-known brands that have developed significant consumer loyalty have long used the natural ingredient made from corn: high fructose corn syrup. Why switch now? Here Shakespeare offers the answer: “Nothing can come of nothing.” Consumers are savvy. They will see through this thinly veiled marketing ploy that offers no change at all—switching out one sugar for another.
So how does this play end? Alas, poor fellow! The ending to this play can be found in a Midsummer Night’s Dream: “We should be woo’d and were not made to woo.” Consumers will vote with their pocketbook. In the end, they cannot be woo’d—or fooled—by marketing gimmicks.