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Consumers Push Natural Retailers to Remove Products with Fructose Corn Syrup

Retailers’ Demands Force Products To Change
Laurie Budgar

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 12/p. 7

12/1/2004

Just as a handful of committed voters can influence an election, a small group of retailers can influence manufacturers’ policy. Recently, two natural foods chains persuaded manufacturers to alter their products so they would no longer contain high fructose corn syrup.

Many products use HFCS as a cheap, shelf-stable sweetener, but recent studies have suggested that it may be at least partly to blame for the rapidly increasing girth of Americans. For some retailers, that’s all they needed to know.

In July, North Carolina-based Earth Fare, a chain of nine natural foods stores, announced it would no longer carry any products containing the ubiquitous but highly controversial sweetener. Likewise, the Boulder, Colo.-based Wild Oats said that while it had not yet banned the ingredient, its private-label products did not use it and the chain was hoping to influence other brands to find alternative ingredients or risk having their products removed.

Newman’s Own was among those brands. As it turned out, the company had in fact reformulated its pasta sauces and salad dressings but had not yet changed its labels. Mary Mulry, Wild Oats’ senior director of product development and standards, said communication problems were to blame. “They had taken it out of their pasta sauces and salad dressings based on our feedback from before and they hadn’t told us.”

High fructose corn syrup is still present in the company’s lemonade. “We’re looking for ways to take it out … [and] have some money left over for charity,” said Newman’s Own spokeswoman Kirsten McKamy.

“We’re still evaluating whether we’re going to continue to have that product,” Mulry said. “We’re pretty firm that we want to continue to hold the line on anything other than sweetened carbonated beverages at this time.”

But beverage maker Blue Sky, too, has been considering removing the HFCS from its sodas. “It’s something that we have looked at and we’ve been speaking with our various retail customers about, but at this time we have not made a decision to make that change,” said Gregg Arends, senior vice president of marketing for Blue Sky.

“For those few stores that absolutely don’t accept high fructose corn sweetener, we do have products within our lineup,” including Blue Sky Tea Sodas and organic sodas, he said. “As far as new products that we’re formulating, we’ve been leaning toward cane sugar,” he added.