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A ketchup maker's change of heart

Scripps Howard News Service

Must credit Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By TERESA F. LINDEMAN

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Maybe ketchup fans aren't all that focused on high-fructose corn syrup, after all.

ConAgra Foods, maker of Hunt's ketchup, made a bold move a couple of years ago by switching away from the controversial sweetener in favor of traditional sugar. The Omaha, Neb., company said at the time that it was changing "in direct response to consumer demand."

But that was then. A company spokeswoman recently confirmed that ConAgra has switched back, although it will still offer an option for those consumers who are avoiding high-fructose corn syrup.

"Yes, 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," said Lanie Friedman.

She added, "Overall, consumer demand for the high-fructose corn-syrup-free ketchup was not as strong as expected."

The company's new approach appears closer to the strategy adopted by dominant U.S. ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Co., which more than two years ago introduced a Simply Heinz ketchup product made with sugar instead of altering the sweetener in its main ketchup offering.

A Heinz spokeswoman said giving customers choices to fit their lifestyle and dietary needs seems to be working. In addition to the version made with sugar, there are 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," Jessica Jackson said. "Simply Heinz is our most popular lifestyle variety today and is widely available at most major retailers nationwide."

Nationally, the debate over whether one form of sweetener is healthier than the other is likely to continue, and manufacturers will keep trying to determine where to place their bets.

For a couple of years now, any discussion of ketchup on the Heinz Facebook page has drawn a comment or two from someone avoiding high-fructose corn syrup. Recently, when the company asked for feedback on its Dip & Squeeze condiment package, commenter Alan Wilkes posted, "Not until you remove High Fructose Corn Syrup...."

One bid to alter the debate by changing the name of the sweetener ran into a setback recently. The Food and Drug Administration rejected a request from the Corn Refiners Association to authorize "corn sugar" as an alternate name for high-fructose corn syrup.

Among its reasons for turning down the petition, the FDA said sugar is a "solid, dried and crystallized food," but syrup is an "aqueous solution or liquid food." So using the term "sugar" would not accurately describe the food or its properties.

(Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman(at)post-gazette.com)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)