Food companies see a shift from low-carb extremes

February 25, 2004 in Food Companies, Manufacturing and Trends

Food companies see a shift from low-carb extremes

U.S. foodmakers are scrambling to satisfy consumer demand for low-carbohydrate products, but also see a move toward more balanced eating that could spell doom for the strictest low-carb diets such as Atkins.

At an industry conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, companies including Kellogg Co. and Hershey Foods Corp. touted products like low-carb cereals and chocolate bars that cater to North Americans following diets that ban carbohydrates like bread, sugar and pasta in favor of high-protein foods and those made with sugar alternatives.

But even as they push these new products, companies that have been hurt by the backlash against carbohydrates expect consumers will soon back off the more extreme low-carb diets due to growing concerns about their intake of artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol.

The Atkins diet, which tells followers they may eat liberal amounts of bacon, eggs, cream and other high-fat products, is widely considered to be the most extreme low-carb diet.

Advocates for the diet insist it does not threaten cholesterol levels. But recent findings that the diet's founder, Dr. Robert Atkins, suffered from heart disease and was overweight when he died last year, have started to raise some concerns, food industry executives said.

The negative reports about Atkins, which prompted a flurry of headlines across the globe labeling him "Dr. Fatkins," come on top of numerous public attacks by low-fat diet gurus such as Dr. Dean Ornish and nutrition advocacy groups.

Late last year, the vegetarian group Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine said the Atkins diet could lead to heart disease and may have contributed to the death of one teen-age dieter.

Kellogg is addressing concerns about the strictest low-carb diets in a new television commercial for its Morningstar Farms vegetarian burgers and patties, which the company says are naturally low in carbs. In the commercial, a voice questions whether low-carb diets are being taken too far while a woman is overheard ordering veal chops, ribs, buffalo wings and a burger without the bun.

Kellogg is not the only company that is hoping to inject a dose of moderation into the low-carb craze. Hershey has teamed up with Dr. Barry Sears, an advocate of the popular Zone diet, to make a line of nutrition bars that follow the principles of balanced nutrition.

Ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Co., stressed that its new "Truth About Carbs" line of Smart Ones frozen entrees, which are co-marketed by Weight Watchers International Inc., are aimed at dieters who are interested in balanced eating. The company�s aim is to present a balanced approach to dieting, instead of a one-sided, overly aggressive approach to try to deal with a trend (low-carb) that may or may not last and may or may not change over time.

"Everything in moderation is ultimately where all these things lead to," said Douglas Conant, chief executive of Campbell Soup Co. "These diets become fad-like and take on lives of their own...and typically they are not sustainable."

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