Are you old enough to remember a cereal called Sugar Smacks? It was a highly sweetened breakfast cereal that I liked when I was a kid. You won’t find a box of cereal with that name on your grocery store shelves anymore. It’s not that the cereal doesn’t exist. It’s just that somewhere along the way, Kellog’s changed the name of the cereal to Honey Smacks to make it sound healthier.


For a long time the word sugar was synonymous with unhealthy. At some point in the past decade, though, the natural sweetener gained a little more respect. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) took sugar’s place as the sweetener to stay away from.

HFCS is a highly processed sweetener made from corn that has been linked to diabetes and obesity. It has also been found to contain mercury. The average American eats about 60 pounds of it a year. It’s found in all sorts of foods. Some foods you might expect to find it in like sugary cereals or soda. Some foods you might be surprised to find contain HFCS like bread or soup. For the past 25 years, the sweetener slowly made its way into many foods without much notice.

However, there has been a public backlash against the sweetener, and many manufacturers are beginning to replace HFCS with sugar. Sugar has become more desirable than HFCS. There is quite a debate as to whether there are any actual health differences between the two, but in the public’s eyes, sugar is a much better choice, or at least the lesser of two evils.

Food manufacturers have not only been replacing the HFCS in their processed foods with sugar, they’ve been vocal about it. Hunt’s Ketchup, which used to contain HFCS, now boasts “NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP” on the front of its packaging. Original Log Cabin Pancake Syrup has the same claim on the front of the package. Other food packages will splash “made with real cane sugar,” on the packaging, and consumers feel reassured. I’ll lump myself in with the consumers that prefer sugar to HFCS in the foods in my house. I try to limit the amount of sugary foods that come into my home, but the majority of those that do contain sugar and not HFCS.

Since sugar has become a word consumers are now comfortable with, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) is taking a page from the Kellog’s marketing book and trying to change the image of HFCS by changing it’s name.

On it’s new website Corn Sugar, the CRA says it wants to clear up confusion about the sweetener by changing the name of the product on ingredient lists. Instead of high fructose corn syrup, the product would now by called corn sugar.

We want to clear up consumer confusion by calling this ingredient what it is: corn sugar. And that is why we are asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow for an alternate name for this ingredient on food and beverage labels.
The name change is in the “interest of consumer clarity” as the CRA’s press release about petitioning the FDA for the name change says.
As Americans grapple with an “obesity epidemic,” well-renowned nutritionists question whether sweetener confusion could lead consumers to make misinformed decisions about sugars in their diets.

“The last thing we want is for Americans to think that avoiding high fructose corn syrup is the answer,” said Registered Dietitian Carolyn O’Neil. “All added sugars should be consumed in moderation – corn sugar, table sugar, honey and fruit juice concentrates. These sugars contain an equal number of calories that must be burned off– or the body will convert them to fat.”

“We hope that the FDA will act positively on our petition in the interest of consumer clarity,” said Erickson. 

Let’s get this clear. The CRA wants us to believe that the name change has nothing to do with the fact that consumers want to avoid high fructose corn syrup. It really is about their concern for American’s health and their desire to end our confusion.

I’m not buying it. It’s all about trying to make their product seem as innocuous as sugar suddenly seems. They are probably hoping that when a consumer reads the ingredient list of a food and doesn’t see “high fructose corn syrup” but sees “corn sugar” instead, the consumer will say, “Hey, this product has no high fructose corn syrup, just sugar.” It will still have HFCS; the consumer will just be confused by the name change. So much for the goal of ending consumer confusion. 

MNN homepage photo: Bunchofpants/Flickr

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

High fructose corn syrup reinvents itself
The makers of the sweetener have petitioned the FDA to rename it Corn Sugar in the best interest of making things clear for the consumer.