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QSR Feature
The Calm Before the Storm

“We think that providing the information is an important step in the process of understanding more about diet and nutrition,” the CRA’s Erickson says. The CSPI’s Jacobson agrees but says that if large companies begin to wage advertising campaigns touting that they have removed the product from their menus, competition will force others to do the same. His solution: “Poke holes in the high fructose corn syrup-evilness bubble. I’m not sure what else to do.”

In an attempt to educate consumers, the CRA has “an active outreach campaign” and attends professional events to educate diet and nutrition professionals. Although the ABA refused to tell QSR why HFCS was used in soft drinks, its Web site devotes several pages to dispelling myths about the sweetener. Both organizations are sticking closely to the “HFCS is harmless” party line, but consumers have turned on harmless foods before. Dr. Robert Atkins and his followers single handedly killed the carbohydrate, a naturally occurring compound, in the early 1970s and then again 25 years later. The low-carb craze gained so much momentum, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi were forced to respond, creating products designed to capture the buying power of regular soft drink purchasers looking to cut out empty carbs.

Erickson is not worried HFCS will suffer the same fate. “We have been working actively to provide that science to the general public and to point out the benefits of HFCS and other corn sweeteners to demonstrate why we as consumers are able to enjoy the foods that we do,” she says.

Not all quick-serves are turning to other sweetener options for health reasons. Krystal, a 400-unit burger chain focused in the South, has chosen to remove HFCS from its specialty beverages to improve their quality. For both the milkshake line, MilkQuakes, and the slushy line, Krystal Freezes, the company uses “a high-quality, premium pure cane sugar flavoring” instead of flavoring with HFCS. According to the company’s CEO, Fred Exum, replacing HFCS improves the beverages’ flavors and is consistent with the high quality menu items customers have come to expect from the brand.

The industry hasn’t reached its HFCS tipping point yet, but with chains like Krystal and Jason’s Deli replacing the sweetener on their menus, the tide is clearly shifting. “I think we’re at a whole new era of people understanding food,” Coco says. “These young X and Y Gen people are educated; they know. They’re not going to let people shove stuff down their throats.”

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