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HFCS = 'Corn Sugar'? Not So Fast
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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With the weighty consequences of obesity falling on many in the United States (pun intended, by the way), many health food groups, nutritionists, and social activists have been raising their voices against the corn lobby and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). They are rising up because they claim that HFCS is bad for you, and campaigns for "Slow Food," food that is grown naturally and without ingredients like HFCS, have been catching Big Agriculture's (BigAg) attention. So much attention, in fact, that the Corn Refiner's Association launched a campaign of its own and petitioned the FDA to rename HFCS "corn sugar."

The CRA requested that the embedding function of their videos be disabled, but you can still see it here.

It seems that its petition fell on deaf ears. The FDA came back to the CRA and said that its petition to rename HFCS to Corn Sugar has been denied.

The Consumerist lays out the main points pretty clearly: the FDA did not see any significant evidence that HFCS can be called corn sugar, and that there is already a substance with that name. The FDA refuses to strip that name away from the other food because doing so could cause serious health concerns to those who depend on accurate labeling. Plus, the FDA threw out the definitions of "sugar" and "syrup" and concluded that one cannot be a substitute for another.

Cane Sugar 1. HFCS 0.

With that being said, the CRA is facing quite the challenge in changing the way consumers and organizations look at HFCS. We don't blame them for trying to change the name of it; if we were in their shoes we may have thought about doing the same thing. Even if they lost this battle, if we were on their branding team, we would suggest continuing to look for a suitable name change. It's happened before. Does anyone know the fish known as the Patagonian Toothfish? It's delicious, but nobody would get it on the menu. Change its name to Chilean Sea Bass, and now it is on the endangered list.

It's not that easy to just pick a name and hope it works. The CRA found that out. But all is not lost. The CRA can still turn HFCS into something tolerable to the public. In changing an image, there are certain things that a brand has to do in order for its audiences to accept it. The first step is the challenge it found with the FDA; it has to be legally sound. Once that hurdle is behind, then it can educate its public as to why the name changed and what the name represents. If the HFCS name changes, will the substance itself change, too? Why did the CRA feel the need to change? Answering those questions thoroughly will be crucial to rebuilding the reputation of the substance (and the CRA) The third piece is buy-in, creating messaging and partnering with trusted sources that will help the change.

Will they succeed in changing an "aqueous solution sweetener derived from corn after enzymatic hydrolysis of cornstarch, followed by an enzymatic conversion of glucose (dextrose) to fructose," also known as HFCS?

Who knows.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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