Posted by Linda Bonvie
January 27, 2015
Very often, if you want to find out the real “inside” story about things that matter to us as consumers, the best places to go are publications, web sites or blogs intended only for industry insiders.
Such was the case last week with a blog written by Crystal Lindell, the managing editor of Candy Industry Magazine. Under the headline “Labels: What are consumers really looking for while they scan the grocery aisle?” it offered an analysis of new data from Nielsen’s recent Global Health & Wellness study, which “looked at what people eat and why in more than 60 countries.”
Interpreting that data for her candy industry readers, Lindell notes that people “actually read all those nutritional claims you throw out there, and then make snap decisions about whether or not they buy into them right there in the middle of the grocery store aisle.” And the “good news,” she reports, is that about 80 percent of North American consumers “are willing to pay a premium for foods with healthy claims or attributes.”
Now, that is good news indeed. But the best news of all, as far as we’re concerned, is something in the report she says most of her readers in the industry “probably already know from experience” — that “Americans HATE high fructose corn syrup.” To this end, she quotes Nielsen as saying, “In the U.S., high fructose corn syrup was public enemy #1 and 65 percent of consumers said it was very or moderately important to buy products with labels touting its absence.” As a result, she advises her consider to either getting rid of it or replacing it with a different sweetener.
What makes this especially interesting, coming as it does directly from an industry publication, is that it directly contradicts continual claims made by the Corn Refiners Association that most Americans really don’t care whether products they buy contain HFCS or not, and that “only 3 percent of consumers name HFCS as an ingredient they avoid.” (In fact, one of the sources the CRA alleges supports that notion on its industry-targeted website, CornNaturally.com, is Nielsen “Shopper Data.”)
And it’s not as if Lindell is an advocate for abandoning HFCS on health grounds, either. As she comments, “I know, I know, it’s cheaper and our bodies probably digest it the same way they digest sugar. But the public has a different opinion on the matter, so the only sane thing left to do is either comply or accept the consequences.”
In other words, consumers are really calling the shots by exercising their purchasing power. And as it turns out, they’re apt to be better informed and more concerned about the effects of food ingredients than industry gives them credit for being.
And one thing it appears consumers may soon catch on to – if they haven’t already – are any attempts to mislead them into thinking that a product contains no high fructose corn syrup when a particularly potent form has actually been added another name. We’re referring, of course, to the substitution of the word “fructose” for HFCS-90, a formulation that’s 90 percent fructose, far in excess of the maximum 55 percent level allowed in HFCS by the Food and Drug Administration.
One reason they’re apt to quickly get wise to this subterfuge is that news of it has gone viral on the Internet since we first disclosed in a blog last month that General Mills was claiming that one of its Chex cereals contained no HFCS while “fructose” was named as an ingredient. That particular blog was first picked up by the Natural Society, which disseminated it as well, resulting in its being featured on various other Internet forums, in addition to being discussed by commentator and activist Thom Hartmann in a video broadcast, and only last week becoming the subject of an on-line petition circulated by the activist phone company Credo.
That’s but one example of how the public now has access to its own “inside information” – even while industry insiders have to rely on consultant firms to try to keep up with what consumers know, and when they know it.