Saturday, May 29, 2010

Corn and market volatility

Given the complexities of the situation, it is sometimes difficult to determine the exact cause for market volatility. And, in the midst of the crisis, speculation can create fear and inaccurate assumptions. Only looking back on the situation after some time has passed, allows one to gain perspective.
This quote from "Food and Fuel Issues," an article about Ethanol and corn production from the University of Illinois Extension, has relevance today.  US corn farmers are blaming the handful of companies who changed the recipe/formula for some of their products, going back to sugar, for the recent market volatility that is hurting their bottom line.  Who cares about health matters or what the consumers want, if the farmers of this great nation are feeling a pinch, then we need to act!  Right?

Well, again, it is important to remember just how much corn this great nation produces.  And it must also be remembered that corn is everywhere, just like Elvis.

The below graphic, also from this article, highlights how US corn is used by segment of the economy. What do you suppose is the smallest category?

Revisiting the subject of corn subsidies

Given some of the recent headlines, the following graphic from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) seems pretty relevant.  Since we're on the subject of corn subsidies and using EWG information, it is important to note two things, (1) EWG does not suggest that farm (or even to be more specific, corn) subsidies should be done away with altogether; however, they do state that the "system is broken" and needs to be revisited.

And (2), according to EWG, corn is not only the most subsidized of all US crops, but as a category, corn subsidies are more than twice as high as even the recipient of second place, wheat. Is it really a surprise then that the US is the world's number one producer of corn?   If you were a farmer and given an option of growing any crop, why would you switch from corn? 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

HFCS and the farmers' perspective

So many of us have rejoiced when we hear about the removal of HFCS from various product lines.  While I knew there were folks who were not pleased (oh, say Audrae Erickson? and there's always Rick Berman, Mr invent-a-Nonprofit, run by a for profit, lobbyist), I hadn't thought much about the impact on farmers.  Sure, I knew that if King Corn were suddenly to be dethroned,  the Archer Daniels Midland bosses and Mr Berman wouldn't suffer actual losses and would instead pass on the pain to the farmers.  But I thought it would take more than a couple companies shifting recipes to make a dent in Corn-related profit.

But Ohio headlines present a sad state of affairs for the Corn farmers of this nation.  Here's an example:
Corn Syrup Dispute
By: Emily Baird
Tuesday, May 25, 2010 - 7:16pm
High fructose corn syrup is an important by-product of the corn crop, but some companies are thinking of replacing that ingredient with a cane sugar substitute in some of its products.
"There's been some research, and it's disputed by some, that high fructose corn syrup has led to some obesity problems here in the country, " says Mark Mechling of the OSU Extension Program.
That switch could prove to be a big deal for farmers, especially in Ohio where it's ranked seventh in the country for corn production
"It makes it less marketable. It basically reduces some demand, not a lot of demand, but some demand. The bottom line for farmers is they probably wouldn't get as much per bushel, " says Mechling.
Mechling says in the long-run that could potentially lead to less corn production. So, he says the Ohio Corn Growers Association is lobbing to keep high fructose corn syrup in these products to prevent a huge blow to farmers.

On the one hand I think: ok, companies are switching back to sugar because that's what the US population apparently wants (setting aside for a moment all the health-related issues and studies whether you believe them or not...) but this Mechling guy wants companies to go back to HFCS because of farmers? Farmers who are PAID by the government to overproduce enormous quantities of corn that everyone knows could never even possibly be used? Who cares what consumers want... 

Well apparently only 4.1% (according to 2007 information) of Corn grow in the US is used in HFCS.  So, blaming the economic woes faced by Corn Farmers on the switch only a handful of companies have made back to sugar is really not a very convincing argument. 

Well what else is there that might be having an effect on King Corn's profit margins?  Oh, let's see....  Ethanol?  Percentage-wise considerably more US corn ends up in Ethanol than in HFCS.  And at least today corn futures are up anyway. 

So yeah. 

(Cartoon Source)

"The United States is the largest corn producer in the world."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bad taste...

but funny!  (no pun intended... )

"The Ban of High Fructose Corn Syrup"

Although I do not participate in the Facebook revolution, a recent New York Times article drew my attention to a Facebook page that certainly has had an impact.  With (according to Facebook, "136,815 People Like This") a following of over 120,000 fans, this page has played a role in the recent reversals (with food industry giants removing HFCS from their product lines.)

  For Corn Syrup, the Sweet Talk Gets Harder

Such defenses [such as the Corn Refiners Association citing the handful of people who support their attempts to defend HFCS], however, don’t hold much sway with people like Ivan Royster, 27, who runs Ban of HFCS, a Facebook page that has 120,000 fans. Like many people who get a creepy feeling about high-fructose corn syrup, Mr. Royster points out that it is a highly processed ingredient that was invented in the late 1960s and introduced into the food supply in the ’80s.
In March, his Facebook page lit up after a study from Princeton University gave credence to the idea that high-fructose corn syrup might, in fact, be worse than sugar.
“Our bodies have been adapted over the years to metabolize sugar, which is natural,” Mr. Royster says. “But the body doesn’t know what to do with high-fructose corn syrup.”
Mr Royster is also on Twitter and has a blog

This woman:
probably doesn't like him very much.

Here's hoping Ivan Royster keeps....

"Spreading Awareness And Debunking Myths That Say HFCS Is Good For You"

Frankenfood video

While i can't say that i agree with every claim made in this video, i certainly concur with the general point and find it amusing.  plus she uses the term Frankenfood, which is an incredibly useful (and fun!) expression.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What does the term "100% Natural" refer to?

  • Hunt's recently made a big change in their ketchup recipe; the new Hunt's Ketchup is now, to quote Hunt's, "100 % natural."  But wait, what does that mean?  According the the Hunt's Ketchup FAQ page:

    "100% Natural" refers to the use of only natural ingredients, including:
    Garlic and other associated spices
    Um, ok, but why would they do this? Why is the Hunt's Ketchup formula changing?

    More than ever, consumers are interested in products with simpler ingredient lists, and ingredients they easily recognize. They express a preference for food items that are natural or made with ingredients they may have at home. And we're listening and providing consumers with what they want—an entire line of ketchup that is 100% Natural, with 0% high fructose corn syrup.
    Well what's the news media saying about this move?
OMAHA, Neb. — ConAgra Foods Inc. has removed high fructose corn syrup from its Hunt's brand ketchup.
Shoppers have been shying away from high-fructose corn syrup due to health concerns, and it was consumer demand that drove the changes, said Hunt's brand manager Ryan Toreson.
Hunt's is the latest brand to make the shift.
PepsiCo Inc. removed all high-fructose corn syrup from sports drink Gatorade and replaced it with cane sugar.
Some nutritionists cite the syrup as part of the country's obesity problem, though industry scientists and many dietitians say it is no more fattening than sugar.
Corn syrup is popular with manufacturers partly because it is cheaper than sugar.
Hunt's Tomato Ketchup has five ingredients: tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt and other seasonings, the company said.
The products should be on all store shelves by the middle of this month.
The price has not changed, the company said.
ConAgra Foods, based in Omaha, Neb., makes brands such as Chef Boyardee, Hebrew National and Peter Pan.

ConAgra Removes High Fructose Corn Syrup from Ketchup Brand

17 May 2010 - ConAgra Foods has announced that it has removed high fructose corn syrup from its Hunt's ketchup products.
"In direct response to consumer demand, Hunt's is pleased to offer ketchup sweetened with sugar and containing only five simple ingredients," said Ryan Toreson, Hunt's Ketchup brand manager.
The reformulated 'Hunt's 100% Natural Ketchup' is now available nationwide at the same price as the previous recipe.

Now let's step back and think about this.... Hunt's made the switch in response to its customers.  In the interest of responding to "consumer demand" they now offer ketchup with only a handful of simple, natural ingredients.

Oh, Audrae Erickson?

Come out, come out, where ever you are! 

Where's the copy/paste block of text-response?  Why have you forsaken us?

Ok, fine.... let's just do her job for her....

Is high fructose corn syrup a "natural" sweetener?
High fructose corn syrup is made from corn, a natural grain product. High fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) requirements for use of the term “natural.” (10)

The FDA stated, referring to a process commonly used by the corn refining industry, that it “would not object to the use of the term ‘natural’ on a product containing the HFCS produced by [that] manufacturing process....” (Letter to Corn Refiners Association, July 3, 2008)

“All forms of HFCS come from corn starch, and are mixtures of the natural glucose and fructose that exist in the starch itself. No artificial ingredients are used in the manufacturing process. The resulting HFCS product is extremely similar to table sugar (sucrose) and has a similar taste.” (“All About High Fructose Corn Syrup.” Food, Nutrition, & Science from The Lempert Report, April 26, 2010)
Oh, look!  a new source cited to promote just how natural HFCS is (never mind the genetically modified enzyme needed to produce this all natural "corn sugar")....

The Lempert Report?  Hmm that sounds scientific.... learned even.... (that's pronounced learn-ed).  Well, what is this Lempert Report?  Who is Lempert?  He must be a medically trained expert who understands the chemical composition of HFCS and is biologically savvy enough to make statements about humans' metabolic response to HFCS intake.  Right?

In his April 30 post entitled: All About High Fructose Corn Syrup, Lempert stated the following:
All forms of HFCS come from corn starch, and are mixtures of the natural glucose and fructose that exist in the starch itself. No artificial ingredients are used in the manufacturing process. The resulting HFCS product is extremely similar to table sugar (sucrose) and has a similar taste.

You see, Lempert, better known as Phil Lempert, is none other than....

Wait, what was that?

That's right,

Here's an excerpt from his "About Us" page:
PHIL LEMPERT is The Supermarket Guru ®

Television & Radio News Reporter/ Newspaper Columnist/ Author/ Consumerologist/ Food Marketing Expert

Phil Lempert can predict the future —and then help businesses and consumers understand it. For more than 25 years, Lempert, an expert analyst on consumer behavior, marketing trends, new products and the changing retail landscape, has identified and explained impending trends to consumers and some of the most prestigious companies worldwide. Known as The Supermarket Guru ® , Lempert is a distinguished author and speaker who alerts customers and business leaders to impending corporate and consumer trends, and empowers them to make educated purchasing and marketing decisions.

As one of America’s leading consumer trend-watchers and analysts, Phil Lempert is recognized on television, radio and in print. He is the food trends editor and correspondent for NBC News’ Today show, where he reports on consumer trends, food safety and money-saving tips, as well as showcases new products. He makes monthly appearances on ABC’s The View , and has appeared numerous times on The Oprah Winfrey Show, 20/20, CNN, CNBC, Discovery Health and MSNBC, as well as on local television morning and news programs throughout the country.

Phil Lempert was one of the pioneers of the new information media, founding in 1994. The website is now one of the leading food and health resources on the Internet, visited by more than 9 million people each year. offers thorough food ratings, analyzes trends in food marketing and retail, and features health advice, unique recipes, nutrition analysis, allergy alerts and many other resources to help consumers understand their food, health, lifestyle and shopping options.

Lempert is contributing editor of Supermarket News, which exclusively runs his columns both in its magazine and on its website; as well as a content partner with SN which includes custom consumer surveys and other projects. He has been profiled and interviewed by USA Today, The New York Times , The Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Newsweek and Ad Age , and is interviewed by hundreds of publications each year.

Phil is the founder and editor of several monthly e-publications targeted to consumers and businesses: “ Xtreme Retail23, ” “ Facts, Figures & the Future ,” “Food Nutrition and Science” and “Coffee Chat News.” He also publishes a weekly e-newsletter from To sign up for any newsletters, visit the “Your Path to Consumer Enlightenment” section of

For 13 years, Lempert has hosted a weekly, live call-in radio show, Before You Bite ® with Phil Lempert , which most recently aired on Lime Radio (previously part of Sirius) . Podcasts of the program, which features discussions of the latest news in health, sustainability and food trends, are currently available on

Phil is a spokesperson for ConAgra Foods and works with various ConAgra brands and their retail partners to help communicate strategies on saving money, healthier eating and food trend information to America's shoppers.

What was that last part?

The world-renowned "Consumerologist" is a spokeperson for none other than ConAgra?

Wait, didn't we just see that Hunt's Ketchup is a ConAgra product?

So wait, one can then assume that THE Phil Lempert, Supermarket Guru, Consumerologist, counseled Hunt's on whether to heed "consumer demand" with regards to HFCS?

Hunt's must have brazenly, foolishly ignored the predictions of....

It is at their own peril that they ignore...

Or maybe, just maybe, Phil Lempert really can predict the future.....

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Shop Happy"??

Bloom's tagline is "A different kind of grocery store." But while this may seem like just another slogan, at Bloom it's a promise. A promise to be thoughtful. To be compassionate. To keep evolving. And, most importantly, to allow customers to do something they've never done before at a grocery store: Shop Happy.

I guess I bought into the hype...  i have been seeing Bloom ads for over a year.  it sounded nice.  "Bloom" simply sounds more appealing than Harris Teeter, Kroger, Publix, Safeway, Giant...  

Was the parking pleasant? yes.  the carts had little store maps built into the handle. the organization of the store was well thought-out.  The selection was pretty good.  The prices were pretty decent.  But i tend to judge a grocery store on the bakery items...  and that's where Bloom shriveled.

I have perused many grocery stores' baked goods aisles.  What do Harris Teeter, Kroger, Publix, Safeway, and Giant have in common?  every one of them has both baked goods with, as well as with out, HFCS.

Not Bloom!  I should be more specific: i picked up about a dozen random baked goods items and every one had HFCS listed. The cookies (chocolate chip and peanut butter), fudge, cinnamon rolls, cakes,  (caramel something or the other, as well as chocolate), cupcakes, etc. all had HFCS listed prominently (along with a whole host of other unappetizing ingredients.) I could not find even one item in the bakery section that was HFCS-free.

That's just sad.