Watching television a few days ago, and saw an ad featuring a rather agreeable-looking farmer with his daughter, moseying through a corn field, discussing the benefits of something I’d never heard of before, called corn sugar. High Fructose Corn Syrup, now that I’ve heard of. Cane sugar, also on my radar. But corn sugar? “This must be a new, healthy kind of sugar made from corn!” I took to The Google to search for this magical new sweetener to see what was up with it (they must have a mega budget to advertise during prime time television).
Guess what: Corn sugar is just High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS for short) with a fancy, new name.
There have been numerous studies done on the effects of HFCS, and so far, the results have been mixed. Corn growers, manufacturers, and the Corn Refiners Association insist that HFCS reacts exactly the same way table sugar does in the body, yet some research suggests that there is a direct correlation between obesity and the use of HFCS in soft drinks and shelf-stable, grab-and-go snacks. Princeton University released a study earlier this year, stating that sweeteners are “not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.”
I’m not a scientist or a doctor, and don’t pretend to understand how different types of sugars react in the body, but what interests me here, as HFCS gets rebranded as corn sugar, is how we, the public, even though we know better, can be influenced by a good marketing campaign. Instinctively and intuitively, my brain drew the conclusion that corn sugar was somehow natural and virtually unprocessed, but just by the nature of what it is (sugar… made from corn), there must be heavy process involved.
Upon doing a little more digging, I discovered that Big Corn has been courting mommy bloggers in an effort to spread their message. We know that mothers do the majority of the grocery shopping and are often the ones educating children on the values of eating apples instead of Dunkaroos. Some mommy bloggers have engaged in the conversation with CRA and have been convinced. It’s caused a stir in the blogger community, and popular blogger Jessica Gottlieb has spoken out on the subject, asking mothers “to collectively say ‘no thank you’ to processed foods.”
Food PR has taken center stage over the last several months. KFC released that crazy, attention-getting sandwich, artist Sally Davies let a Happy Meal sit out for 180 days, and photos of what mechanically separated chicken looks like before it’s molded into those strange loaves have all made front page headlines. Now High Fructose Corn Syrup’s producers are on the offensive, proactively working to reverse the mindset that it is one of the major causes of obesity, whether it is or not.
PR pros, I ask you: What would YOU do if Corn Refiners of America was your client, and your task was to rebrand HFCS as “natural”?
Esther Steinfeld is public relations manager for Blinds.com <http://www.blinds.com/>, a major online provider of custom window treatments. In 2010, Blinds.com was named the No. 1 e-commerce company in Houston by the Houston Business Journal.