November 10/Washington/PRNewswire -- Changing the name of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to "corn sugar" would confuse consumers and thwart food shoppers' attempts to avoid the man-made sweetener, says a study prepared for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Fully half of consumers surveyed failed to recognize that a product label listing "corn sugar" might in fact contain HFCS.

The Sugar Association commissioned the face-to-face consumer survey to provide data on the American consumer to the FDA, responding to a proposal by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to rebrand HFCS as "corn sugar."

Consumer research expert Dr. Joel Cohen, who was previously commissioned by the National Cancer Institute to create a survey on consumer understanding of cigarette health risks, designed the Sugar Association study of 610 consumers. The survey examined whether changing the name of HFCS to "corn sugar" would mislead consumers, or instead reduce consumer misperceptions about HFCS, as the CRA claims in its petition.

"In marketing, product and brand names are powerful tools to convey meaning, which is why millions of dollars are spent trying to find the ideal name to communicate associations and images that transcend product function," Cohen said in the survey analysis. "This study strongly indicates that, if the ingredient heretofore identified as 'high-fructose corn syrup' were instead identified as 'corn sugar,' a meaningful percentage of food shoppers are likely to be misled into believing that the latter ingredient is something other than high-fructose corn syrup, which many seek to avoid."

The Sugar Association has previously provided evidence to the FDA claiming that renaming HFCS would undo the agency's "well-established sugar/syrup nomenclature system."

In addition, when consumers surveyed understood that the "corn sugar" name actually referred to HFCS, their preferences to avoid the ingredient did not significantly change.  This showed, according to Cohen, that "those food shoppers who correctly understand that 'corn sugar' actually refers to the HFCS ingredient will not alter their unfavorable perceptions of the ingredient, resulting in no benefit from the name change to those marketing HFCS. 

The survey thus revealed that the problem with HFCS is not its name, but is instead consumer concerns over the ingredient itself. 

The 610 respondents were surveyed by professionally-trained interviewers in a one-on-one setting in 16 high-traffic shopping malls across the country. Respondents were 51% female and 49% male and their age distribution closely mirrored U.S. population parameters.

From the November 11, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News.