WASHINGTON: The Corn Refiners Association (CRA) launched a new PR and ad campaign to battle what it calls "myths" and "inaccuracies" in the media about the use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in foods.
Weber Shandwick is working with the group, though a source at the firm referred all questions to CRA.
"There's been considerable misunderstanding," said CRA president Audrae Erickson. "The goal of the campaign is to change the conversation about high fructose syrup and demonstrate its parity with sugar and honey."
Consumers often believe corn syrup is less healthy or has more calories than table sugar or honey, according to the CRA, yet the American Medical Association (AMA) recently said that HFCS "does not contribute more to obesity than other caloric sweeteners."
AMA board member William Dolan, MD, however, tempered the group's conclusion on corn syrup by recommending that "consumers limit the amount of all added caloric sweeteners."
A core piece of the CRA campaign, which will run at least 18 months, will be showing audiences side-by-side comparisons of common sugars found in food and beverages, including honey, table sugar, and saccharin. Outreach will direct people to www.sweetsurprise.com, a new Web site which compares various sweeteners while also cautioning that "all should be enjoyed in moderation."
"We've been working on this issue for a number of years," said Erickson. "What's new is that we're embarking on the [public] education component. It's an ingredient, not something that [by itself] is sold on grocery-store shelves."
Target audiences include consumers, particularly moms, and healthcare pros that the CRA aims to reach via extensive media outreach to both consumer and healthcare trade publications. The campaign also has a significant ad component, targeting print, television, and online.
Efforts to communicate with healthcare pros also include direct mail and sponsorship of conferences and other events involving medical associations.
Erickson said the CRA has done outreach on the issue for years, but that this new effort involves more aggressive media relations, in addition to the ad campaign.
Four years ago, PRWeek reported that Alexandria, VA-based CRC Public Relations was working with CRA on outreach related to the issue of corn syrup and obesity. CRC couldn't be reached at press time.
Erickson declined to discuss CRA's current PR representation, but noted that The Wall Street Journal reported that DDB in Chicago developed the ad portion of the campaign and quoted an unnamed source as valuing the overall effort at $20 million to $30 million.
Following the campaign launch, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) issued a statement calling it deceptive for claiming that HFCS is "natural" or has the "same natural sweeteners as sugar."
"The corn and sugar industr[ies]... are having something of a battle over terms such as 'natural' and also how they relate to obesity," CSPI president Michael Jacobson told PRWeek.
"There's a lot of misinformation out there. I don't think one promotes obesity more than the other. But they went too far in their defense. The CRA had an opportunity to provide some truthful information, and it missed the boat."
In response, Erickson forwarded PRWeek a letter sent jointly by CRA and CSPI to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) objecting to a city proposal to tax beverages containing HFCS because it contains fructose and glucose, "which are found in many other naturally occurring foods."