Slim-Fast looks to straddle low-carb/low-fat divide

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Unilever, which last year was first out of the gate with Carb Options, an extensive line of low-carb products, is hedging its bets with its ailing Slim-Fast line by introducing Optima, a middle-ground approach to low-carb, low-fat diets.

Terry Olson, who stepped into the head role of VP-general manager at Slim-Fast last week as the operating unit was rolled under Unilever's retail foods division, said that Optima is a "reinvention of a balanced diet that is the wave of the future."

"Carb is yesterday's news. Consumers will be looking for better balance, for enough sugar, at a level that's healthy, and for healthy unsaturated fats," Mr. Olson said.

Slim-Fast late last year rolled out a handful of low-carb items and is now launching a full line, perhaps too late, to address the diet craze that has contributed to the roughly 30% drop in its business over the last year.

The company will relaunch Slim-Fast this September under the Optima banner with powders, shakes, bars and fruit smoothies with 50% less sugar and more calcium. The reformulation of the line will dovetail with Slim-Fast's 18-item lineup of low-carb varieties for a two-diet strategy it hopes can stem the deep declines Mr. Olson pegs to too much sugar.

other concerns

Bob Goldin, exec VP of food industry research firm Technomic said that Unilever's more balanced approach with Optima is a good one, as "carb consciousness is going to continue to be a reality, but other dietary concerns like sugar and fat are expected to elevate in importance."

Optima is expected to account for some 60% of Slim-Fast sales while the low-carb lineup, which by its April 28 earnings announcement had already accounted for 20% of sales, is expected to account for 40%, according to an executive close to the company.

The executive said the Optima Smoothies will launch in late September. Advertising for both Optima and the low-carb line will bow in prime diet season, late December or early January, from Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide, New York.

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