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ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Natural food supermarket chain Earth Fare has said that it will remove all products containing high-fructose corn syrup from its shelves by Dec. 31. "As far as we know, we are the first chain to do a ban," the company's director of sales and marketing, Troy DeGroff, told Progressive Grocer.
"Not only is high-fructose corn syrup a highly refined and unnatural product that has masqueraded as natural far too long, research continues to indicate that it has serious ramifications on human health," said DeGroff. "In the interests of our customers, and in the interest of fulfilling our mission of being the healthy supermarket, we feel we can no longer carry these products."
"It's the right thing to do," noted Earth Fare c.e.o. and president Michael Cianciarulo. "When you turn on the TV and repeatedly hear about the increase in diabetes, how can you responsibly offer products containing something that looks like it might be one of the main causes?"
The product categories most affected by Earth Fare's ban will be the carbonated beverage and nutritional bar categories. "Over a third of our sodas and energy bars will have to be removed, some of them best sellers," said David Bowles, Earth Fare director of purchasing.
On a recent trip to Earth Fare's newest store, in Knoxville, Tenn., DeGroff told Progressive Grocer that he other employees went through the aisles with a fine-tooth comb, finding 112 items containing high-fructose corn syrup. Although he conceded that PowerBar and Balance Bar were not likely to reformulate their products in response to the ban, one company, Santa Fe, N.M.-based Blue Sky, which produces natural soda in nonorganic and organic varieties, was looking into making the change and thought that the ban would help it do so.
Earth Fare will be issuing a brochure for its shoppers this fall on the glycemic index and what effect the various sources of sugar and carbohydrates have on the body.
"We are proud to be leaders in looking out for our customers' health once again," said Cianciarulo. "We were the first chain to ban hydrogenated oils from our shelves, and now we set the standard again, putting customer health before profit." According to DeGroff, Hydrogenated oils were banned from the stores 10 or 11 years ago, DeGroff told Progressive Grocer.
DeGroff characterized customer reaction to the high-fructose corn syrup ban as "really positive," citing one natural-foods shopper who told local media, "As close as it gets to the ground, that's what I want." Enthused DeGroff, "It's responses like that that make you go, 'Yeah, this is great.'"
Earth Fare runs nine stores in the Southeast. The company is currently working on its second Greenville, S.C. store and the first of several in Charlotte, N.C., both of which are expected to open later this year.