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Corn syrup tries to sweeten its image

Jill Barshay Jun 23, 2008
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Tess Vigeland: Corn’s price is popping, even more so now because of the flooding of farmlands throughout the corn belt.

Today, agribusiness giant Bunge bought a company called Corn Products International for $4.4 billion in stock. One of CPI’s biggest products is high-fructose corn syrup which the company sells to drink purveyors like Coca-Cola and food processors including Kellogg, Unilever and Nestle.

There’s a lot of concern about how healthy this sweetener is. Today, the corn syrup lobby launched a new marketing campaign.

Marketplace’s Jill Barshay reports.


Jill Barshay: American newspaper readers got a first glimpse of a really corny marketing campaign this morning: full page ads of a big yellow corn on the cob surrounded by bright green leaves. The companies that make corn syrup want to convince Americans that their sweetener is as natural as sugar or honey.

Tom Pirko: It’s an uphill battle.

That’s Tom Pirko, president of BevMark. He advises big users of corn syrup like Coke and Pepsi.

Pirko: We are dealing with an epidemic of obesity and high-fructose corn syrup is one of the major fattening agents in our culture.

Pirko says corn syrup producers are battling health groups and nutritionists who are demonizing the sweetener.

Audrae Erickson is the president of the Corn Refiners Association. She’s directing the 18-month marketing campaign that’ll hit our TVs and Internet screens in the next few weeks.

Audrae Erickson: There will be a particular focus on magazines targeted at moms given their important role in preparing and buying foods for their families.

American moms aren’t buying corn syrup directly, but they are reading ingredient labels and they’ve been buying fewer products made with corn syrup over the past year.

The Wall Street Journal says the corn refiners are spending as much as $30 million dollars to win moms over, but BevMark’s Pirko says it’s not just the health concerns of American shoppers that corn syrup makers should be worried about.

Pirko: They’re just getting strangled by the prices. The price is going up, up, up, but getting higher prices on the shelf is becoming very difficult as consumers have less and less disposable income.

Pirko says as the price of corn and corn syrup rises, many food processors are looking for cheaper substitutes.

In New York, I’m Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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