Consumer demand for high fructose corn syrup has dropped 11 percent, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showing the latest figures between 2003 and 2008. HFCS makers will also buy 13 percent less corn syrup this market year than at the highest point in 2001.
A higher consumer awareness of links between HFCS and obesity and the operations of the food supply chain could be possible reasons behind the decline, according to Aaron Woolf, director of the film King Corn.
“A lot of Americans are asking important questions about what we eat and where it comes from,” Woolf said. “To me the more interesting conclusion is that maybe we should be using less sweeteners in general. I think the idea that we subsidize sweeteners is worth questioning.”
Sugar has seen an increase in use as HFCS has declined, as food giants like Hunt’s and Starbucks replace HFCS in ketchup and baked goods with sugar. Producers of HFCS aren’t worried, however, as trade restrictions have been lessened between Mexico and the U.S., resulting in more HFCS-sweetened products being exported to that country.
“The sugar provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) removed all duties and quantitative restrictions on sweetener trade between Mexico and the United States as of January 1, 2008,” the USDA stated in a report entitled Agricultural Baseline Projections: U.S. Crops, 2010-2019. “In the long term, Mexican exportable sugar supplies are expected to increase as a result of increased use of high fructose corn syrup displacing sugar in beverage and food manufacturing end uses in Mexico.”
The Corn Refiners Association, the people behind the “Sweet Surprise” campaign believe the decline in HFCS demand is a result in changing consumer palates toward healthier options.
“Consumption of added sugars has been on the decline for several years as consumers switched to diet and low-calorie products and even bottled water,” Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association said. “Consumers are becoming more calorie conscious.”
As less HFCS is made in 2010, Woolf, among other proponents in the natural products industry, believes a stronger dialogue between the consumer and supplier is needed.
“I think whether or not HFCS comes back in the marketplace has as much to do with our policy decisions as it does our consumer decisions,” Woolf said. “We have become accustomed to having added sweeteners in a lot of our foods, and I think that itself is a problem. I think that better outcomes and better policies will happen as the result of a lot of Americans doing what we did, which is tracing the narrative of where our food comes from.”