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The jury’s still out on whether consumers care which ingredient is sweetening their favorite products. In the latest example related to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), ConAgra Foods, maker of Hunt’s ketchup, has switched back to using HFCS in its popular condiment.
A company spokeswoman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “We made a recent ingredient change to Hunt’s ketchup, but will continue offering our 100 percent natural line that contains table sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Overall, consumer demand for the high fructose corn syrup-free ketchup was not as strong as expected.”
Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra removed HFCS from its ketchup in favor of traditional sugar a couple of years ago. At the time the company said it was changing “in direct response to consumer demand.”
The multiple choice approach seems to be working for the country’s leading ketchup maker, Pittsburgh-based H.J. Heinz Co., which more than two years ago introduced its Simply Heinz ketchup product made with sugar instead of altering its traditional ketchup line.
In addition to the version made with sugar, Heinz offers organic, no-salt and reduced sugar varieties.
“By offering a range of options while keeping our traditional Heinz ketchup at the heart of our lineup, consumers can enjoy the great taste of Heinz ketchup no matter what their lifestyle needs may be,” Heinz spokeswoman Jessica Jackson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
To be sure, food and beverage manufacturers will continue to analyze how HFCS-free marketing strategies play out in the marketplace. A comprehensive review in April 2011 of Nielsen shopper data covering the performance of 25 leading brands and more than 3,200 SKUs in beverages, baked goods and prepared foods suggested that an HFCS-free strategy had not been effective in driving sales.