The beverage industry, which has widely used high fructose corn syrup as
a sweetener since the early 1980s, might be considering other options these
days — and not for the reasons you might expect.
For several years, the nutrition community has engaged
in a debate over sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup. On one side, some
nutritionists blame the switch to high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks,
as well as other beverages and foods, for the obesity epidemic. They argue
that the body processes HFCS differently than other sweeteners, affecting
metabolism. Proponents of the ingredient say its blend of fructose and
glucose replicates that of table sugar, and that the body deals with them
both the same way.
But the nutrition debate pales in comparison to
today’s environmental debate, and like so many conflicts, the sugar
vs. high fructose corn syrup battle might be decided by market pressures
rather than nutrition arguments. Rising corn prices resulting from demand
for ethanol fuel are putting the squeeze on companies that rely on high
fructose corn syrup to sweeten their products. Corn prices rose to a
10-year high in February based on demand for ethanol production.
“The price increases that we’re seeing for
corn and high fructose corn syrup are unlike we’ve seen in many a
year. We’re clearly feeling the pinch and it’s been tough,” said a Coca-Cola foodservice executive at
the Reuters Food Summit in Chicago, according to the news agency.
John Brock, chief executive officer at Coca-Cola
Enterprises, was quoted in a recent International
Herald Tribune report on the issue,
saying, “We, as an industry, are facing unprecedented issues on
The pricing situation for both corn sweeteners and
sugar is complicated, and has brought about its own ugly debate over the
mix of supply, demand, government subsidies and import quotas that govern
the corn and sugar markets.
Beverages are not the only products affected by the
rising costs — food prices overall are expected to increase, leading
some to predict that the food vs. fuel battle will only grow as we try to
balance the need for alternative fuel options with affordable food.
The beverage industry will, of course, need to figure
out how to deal with the cost increases in the short term. From an even
broader perspective, it also will be interesting to see which sweetener
companies choose if prices eventually reach equal levels.
Beverage Industry’s October issue features a cover story on our 2019 Executive of the Year, Jim Koch of the Boston Beer Co. This issue also features a category focus on bottled water and the innovations that abound in flavored, functional and sparkling waters. The issue also includes an ingredient spotlight on the beloved chocolate ingredient as well as voice-picking solutions aimed at streamlining beverage warehouses. As usual, we rounded up the latest trends in products, packaging and ingredients.
Check back throughout the month for additional content.