You may have read the article in the Wall Street Journal or in online sources about Seattle-based Jones Soda Company’s decision to start making their soft drinks using sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) starting in January.
According to the CEO, the move is being made for health reasons. Reports the WSJ:
Sweetening its sodas with cane sugar instead of HFCS “truly differentiates Jones and provides the consumer with a healthier alternative,” Peter van Stolk, the company’s president and chief executive, said in announcing the switch. Unlike HFCS, he said, cane sugar is a “natural ingredient” with a “positive perception in the consumer’s mind.”
I’m not so sure that sugar is associated with a “positive perception” in the minds of most people. Nor do I buy into the idea that sugar is natural and HCFS isn’t. Sugar is extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets, unquestionably ‘natural’ substances; HFCS is extracted from corn, which is, at least the last time I checked, also a ‘natural’ substance.
All bloviating to the contrary, I suspect the real reason that the folks at Jones Soda Co. decided to make the change was a marketing one. They simply believe that with all the attacks on HFCS in the media they will sell more flavored sugar water if they sweeten with sugar instead of HFCS.
The sugar will alter the taste of the beverage, but whether or not this will appeal to customers used to the HFCS taste remains to be seen. Soft drinks in other parts of the world are sweetened with sugar instead of HFCS and taste distinctly different. I posted a while back on how Mexican immigrants to this country spend more to get Coca Cola that has been bottled in Mexico and imported because they much prefer the taste.
What will happen to the Jones Soda Company is a larger hickey on their profit and loss statement for ingredients. Sugar, compared to HFCS, is not cheap. The primary reason that US bottlers switched to HFCS is that it is so much less expensive because it isn’t regulated in the way sugar is. There are federally mandated price supports for sugar, but not for HFCS, so while food manufacturers in other parts of the world can get sugar inexpensively, those in the US can’t. They use HFCS.
Who supports the price supports on sugar? The sugar lobby, you say. Yes, but they’re not the only ones. How about Archer Daniels Midland? They are the biggest beneficiary. I’m going to poach from my earlier post and include the John Stossel interview with the head of ADM in this one as well:
When public interest groups compile lists of corporate welfare recipients, a company named Archer Daniels Midland is usually at the top of the list. You may never have heard of ADM, because it’s name rarely appears on consumer products, but it’s huge. It’s products are in most processed foods.
ADM collects welfare because of two cleverly designed special deals. The first is the government’s mandated minimum price for sugar. Because of the price supports, if the Coca-Cola Company or Pepsi wants to buy sugar for its soda, it has to pay 22 cents a pound – more than twice the world price. So Coke (and most everyone else) buys corn sweetener instead. Guess who makes corn sweetener? ADM, of course. Now guess who finances the groups that lobby to keep sugar prices high?
Why does ADM get these special deals? Bribery. Okay, it’s not bribery – that would be illegal. ADM just makes “contributions.” Through his business and family, former ADM chairman Dwayne Andreas gave millions in campaign funds to both Mondale and Reagan, Dukakis and Bush, Dole and Clinton. President Nixon’s secretary Rosemary Woods, says Andreas himself brought $100,000 in cash to the White House. He even paid the tuition for Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s son. Republicans, Democrats, it doesnt matter. ADM just gives.
It also flies people around on its corporate jets. When we contacted Andreas to ask for an interview, he arranged to fly us to ADM’s Decatur, Illinois, headquarters in one of ADM’s jets. I’ve seen private jets before, but ADM’s was a step above. A flight attendant served us excellent food on gold-plated china. The camera crew and I loved it. Bet the politicians like it, too.
A limo took us to Dwayne Andreas’s office. Once the cameras were rolling, I brought our the questions about “corporate welfare.” I foolishly thought I could get him to admit he was a rich guy milking the system. I thought he’d at least act embarrassed about it. Fuggeddaboutit. He was unfazed.
John Stossel: Mother Jones [magazine] pictured you as a pig. You’re a pig feeding at the welfare trough.
Dwayne Andreas: Why should I care?
John Stossel: It doesn’t bother you?
Dwayne Andreas: Not a bit.
In terms of our national obesity epidemic it probably doesn’t much matter whether sodas made by Jones are sweetened with sugar of HFCS because these sodas are sold at the upper end of the price range, are bottled in one size, and don’t have particularly wide distribution. Since the amount of fructose in the type of HFCS used to make soft drinks is only slightly greater than that in sugar (55% verses 50%), I don’t think the couple of grams or so of fructose will make a big difference to the metabolic system of the average consumer of Jones’ sodas.
Where it would make a difference, however, is in the metabolic systems of those consuming SuperSized portions of soft drinks from bottomless, free refill cups at all the fast food outlets. The extra 5 percent of fructose in these drinks would add up to a substantial amount. Unfortunately, I don’t see the fast food places or Coke or Pepsi making the change because the hit on their bottom lines would be too great.
In fact, the people at both Coke and Pepsi have gotten their noses out of joint that the upstart Jones Soda Co. has had the temerity to switch to sugar and tout it as a health benefit. From the WSJ:
Coca Cola Co. and PepsiCo have used HFCS widely in their sodas in the U.S. for more than 20 years and vigorously defend its safety. “To say cane sugar is healthier than HFCS just isn’t true. Marketing a myth for a competitive advantage is irresponsible and short-sighted,” says Dave DeCecco, a Pepsi spokesman.
So Coke and Pepsi have used HFCS in their sodas for more than 20 years (since 1980 to be exact) and vigorously defend its safety. Isn’t that just about how long the obesity epidemic has been going?