PCC Natural Markets yanked the last product with high-fructose corn syrup from its shelves this week, saying the ingredient is a highly...

PCC Natural Markets yanked the last product with high-fructose corn syrup from its shelves this week, saying the ingredient is a highly processed sweetener with no nutritional value that studies have linked to obesity and other health problems.

Getting rid of the ingredient at PCC took years, beginning with its refusal to carry new products — from bread to pasta sauce to soup — that contained the sweetener. Sometimes a food supplier would switch ingredients, though, and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) would appear where it hadn’t been before.

After hearing from customers and deciding that all HFCS needed to go, PCC workers pored over ingredient lists and found it in less than 1 percent of their products. In March 2006, PCC’s director of merchandising wrote to manufacturers saying the chain’s eight stores would phase it out beginning that summer.

Some suppliers changed sweeteners. Judy’s Candy in California switched to corn syrup, and Just Desserts moved to sugar. For a while, PCC took Power Bar products off shelves, but it replaced them when the company came out with HFCS-free products.

A few manufacturers did not comply. PCC removed less than 50 products, from snack bars to salad dressing. The last to go was a brand of soda pop that PCC declines to name because the company is in the process of eliminating HFCS.

To fill gaps, the grocery chain added products such as carbonated beverages sweetened with fruit juice and stevia, including RW Knudsen Spritzers, Fizzy Lizzy and Zevia.

“This is a tough thing for manufacturers,” said PCC spokeswoman Diana Crane. “HFCS is good, cheap stuff from their point of view, and they’re not bad guys. They’re just looking at their bottom line. Unfortunately, they’re not looking long-term.”

As PCC, Jones Soda and other food companies eliminate HFCS, the Corn Refiners Association disputes that the ingredient is unnatural or unhealthful and points to some studies that support its point of view.

Earlier this year, PCC also stopped carrying fresh dairy products with the artificial growth hormone rBGH, and it eliminated products with artificial trans-fats.

PCC will continue monitoring products to be sure suppliers have not added those ingredients to their products, but shoppers also need to be careful, Crane said.

“As diligent as merchandisers are,” she said, “it always comes down to ‘buyer beware.’ “

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com