Hershey is looking at replacing the high-fructose corn syrup in some of its products with sugar.
Will Papa, chief research and development officer at Hershey Co., told The Associated Press the company uses a mix of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup in its products but that it is "moving more toward sugar."
"We take into account what consumers want. And consumers are telling us between the two, they prefer sugar," Papa said.
A switch to sugar would make Hershey a high-profile example of the move away from high-fructose corn syrup in the food industry. Many people say they avoid it because it has gained a bad reputation for fuelling weight gain and diabetes, though health experts says there's not enough evidence to conclude it's any worse than regular sugar.
In an e-mailed statement, Hershey said its work on "exploring" the replacement of high-fructose corn syrup "is just under way" and that it did not have a time-frame on when it might be complete.
A representative for Hershey, Jeff Beckman, cited Almond Joy, Fifth Avenue, Take 5 and York as examples of products that use corn syrup. He said classic Hershey bars are made with sugar.
"Our aim is to be transparent with our consumers about the ingredients we use in our products. Once we have more information to share, we will be back in touch," Hershey said in its statement.
Other products that have changed from high-fructose corn syrup to sugar include Gatorade drinks and Yoplait yogurt.
As for health, the American Medical Association has said there's not enough evidence to specifically restrict the use of corn syrup. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which advocates for food safety, has also said that there's no evidence that the sweetener is any worse nutritionally than sugar.
The Corn Refiners Association, an industry group, has been pushing back at the negative perceptions about high-fructose corn syrup, which is generally cheaper than sugar. In 2010, the association submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration to have its sweetener renamed "corn sugar" on nutrition labels. The request was denied.
The association said it has also commissioned market research firms Mintel and Nielsen to study perceptions of sweeteners and shared the results online. For instance, the group notes in media materials that "67% of consumers agree that moderation is more important than specific sweetener types."
John Bode, president of the Corn Refiners Association, said in an interview that the number of companies changing from corn syrup to sugar has slowed. Still, he said consumption of high-fructose corn syrup has declined more than other sugars.
Part of the reason is that people are cutting back on soda, which he said accounts for a majority of the market for high-fructose corn syrup.
In some cases, he noted that companies have switched back from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup after failing to see a notable sales spike. Hunt's Tomato Ketchup switched to sugar in 2010, but then switched back to high-fructose corn syrup in 2012. Lanie Friedman, a spokeswoman for ConAgra Foods, said demand for the version without high-fructose corn syrup wasn't "as strong as expected."
She noted the company still offers a 100% Natural line that uses sugar.
Among the members of the Corn Refiners Association are agribusiness companies Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and Tate & Lyle.