Many people know they don't want high-fructose corn syrup (or HFCS) even if they don't know why. The fuzzy grey area—like how HFCS affects your body, what it's made from, and how it differs from cane-based sugar—is exactly what the Corn Refiners Association is tapping into when promoting the ingredient in new commercials and print ads, now visible nationally and on the site SweetSurprise.com.
The ads ask what's so wrong with a little HFCS? The complexities are hardly known or explained—people just know to avoid it. In one commercial, a girl picnics with her boy and offers him a popsicle. He declines. It's not you, it's the high fructose corn syrup, babe. Instead of taking offense, she merrily explains that HFCS is made of corn, has the same calories as sugar and honey, and is totally fine in moderation.
But what does "moderation" mean? SweetSurprise.com never elaborates on dosage on the site's "High Fructose Corn Syrup Quick Facts" page. While consumers have a vague idea of "moderation" (not too much), HFCS creeps into salad dressings, juices, ketchup, breads, and even "whole-grain" breads, which can complicate attempts to be moderate.
In the second pro-HFCS commercial, two moms chat at a kid's birthday party, surrounded by sugar-high munchkins. One supports the pouring of a generic, junky-looking fruit punch drink, while the other disapproves. You don't care about poisoning your kids with that stuff? Don't you see how hyper it's making them? But when put on the spot, the HFCS-hating mom doesn't know how to explain herself.
Like the commercial before it, the Corn Refiners Association reminds consumers that they don't know a lot about the sweetener—they just know to hate it. The commercial claims that the ingredient is safe, despite the chemically-scary name. High-fructose corn syrup is just made of corn—the same corn responsible for happy things like cornbread—and is nutritionally comparable to table sugar and honey.
But as one Serious Eats reader points out on this recent talk thread on the issue, the campaign resembles former ones with cigarettes, where the nicotine sticks become "a healthy alternative to sweets."
Watch the two commercials and check out the print ads here. Do you think HFCS deserves to have its voice heard? For more background info, here's one take on how it gets from corn fields to your cupboard.