As corn stocks ballooned and prices tanked during the 1980s farm crisis, one gleam of good news came from a new corn product – high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). In 1984, major soft drink companies replaced colas’ sugar with 100% HFCS, and corn use for the sweetener hit 310 million bu. By 1999, HFCS use was above 550 million bu. and almost even with corn use for fuel ethanol. Since then, however, corn use for HFCS has contracted by 16%. This year, USDA ERS forecasts use at just 485 million bushels.

What happened? The most significant change may be the evolution of the U.S. beverage market, according to Tom Earley, an economist who tracks sweetener issues for Agralytica. “I think most of the decline is not due to an aversion to HFCS but to changes in the markets, as consumers have shifted to bottled waters, energy drinks and less traditional carbonated drinks,” he says.

“Companies like Hunts and Pepsi that made a big deal about shifting to sugar found it didn’t get them a better market share and they shifted back,” he says. “Though there is a part of the population that is anti-HFCS, I don’t think there’s been a big consumer swing [against it].”