Omaha researcher finds little concern about high-fructose corn syrup

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Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 12:00 am

An Omaha market research firm has concluded that consumers aren't very worried about high fructose corn syrup in their food and drinks after all.

“Shoppers are far more concerned about added sugars overall than about HFCS specifically,” a researcher concluded based on phone surveys. “Given the low consumer awareness of HFCS, there appears to be little or no incentive for manufacturers to remove HFCS.”

Amid “media buzz” surrounding concerns about health risks of the common sweetener, the study was commissioned by the Corn Refiners Association, which represents makers of high fructose corn syrup.

The study sought to determine whether consumers look at sugars on packaged food labels, whether the type of sweetener is a consideration when buying the food product, and whether there are some types of food and beverages more likely to be affected by concerns about high fructose corn syrup.

The study by Sara Martens of The MSR Group in Omaha was performed in 2012 for market research firm Mintel Research, The study was published recently by Supermarket News, a trade magazine for the food distribution industry.

The study also found that Google searches for “high fructose corn syrup” declined from 2009 to 2012, while searches for “sugar” and “soda” rose.

Asked about a range of common packaged food products, shoppers surveyed said they consider sugars most when choosing carbonated beverages (60 percent) and least when choosing ketchup (21 percent). But in no category did more than 3 percent of respondents say that they specifically avoid high-fructuose corn syrup.

Not only do most consumers not care about high-fructose corn syrup, products with the sweetener removed haven't fared well. The study cited Omaha firm ConAgra's experience with its Hunt's ketchup. ConAgra removed high-fructose corn syrup from the ketchup, which subsequently saw its market share decline from 15 percent to 14 percent. In June 2012, Hunt's returned to using corn syrup.

Manufacturers have had more success with products that have less added sugar overall. The study cited growth of Capri Sun beverage Roarin' Waters, which is sweetened with corn syrup, just not as much of it. The product's sales have grown by 23 percent annually.

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