Atkins leads low-carb blitz as trend goes mainstream

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The mainstreaming of the low-carbohydrate diet craze has marketers scrambling to develop products and marketing.

Atkins Nutritionals will more than double its $5.4 million 2002 ad spending and move into TV for the first time this fall, touting its growing portfolio of convenient foods. Russell Stover Candies plans a blitz of print media for its new Low Carb chocolates this summer and Rexall Sundown is pushing hard against its expanded array of Carb Solutions. Anheuser-Busch Cos.' early success with its low-carb beer, Michelob Ultra, is a good indicator of the sector's potential.

According to Matt Wiant, senior VP-chief marketing officer for Atkins Nutritionals, new management has focused on transforming Atkins into a food company as "there is a tremendous need for people who follow the Atkins method to have convenient products."

Mr. Wiant cited statistics showing that roughly 20 million people are on or have been on the Atkins diet, and the number now considering it is three times that, largely due to highly publicized medical research over the last nine months that shows the diet is an effective way to lose weight. Despite a surge of interest, controversy still swirls around the diet.

healthier alternative

The thrust of Atkins' fall ad campaign-which includes its first-ever foray into TV-will center around the fact that the average American consumes 158 pounds of sugar per year, and offers Atkins (the approach and the products) as a healthier alternative. Mad Dogs & Englishmen, New York, handles. This summer, Atkins will run an extensive product-awareness print campaign to drive sales. Sales in food, drug and mass excluding Wal-Mart grew 87.8% to $69 million for the 52 weeks ended May 18, according to Information Resources Inc. This September the company will launch a line of pasta side dishes under the Quick Quisine banner as well as breakfast cereals.

Meanwhile, Russell Stover will introduce a line of low-carb candies including Pecan Delights and Truffles. The line will be touted heavily with ads (developed in-house) to be placed in mainstream media and a sponsorship of Internet site WebMD's low-carb section.

The candy company's VP-marketing John O'Hara said the line is a natural extension of its successful recent entry into sugar-free candies.

Rexall Sundown, currently being sold by parent Royal Numico to NBTY, has recently expanded its Carb Solutions line beyond low-carb shakes and bars to include an array of high-protein chips, candy bars and ready-to-drink beverages said Lianne Maso de Moya, VP-marketing of weight management at Rexall. The extended line will be supported this year with more than Rexall's 2002 spend of $3.8 million, including a TV and print effort from Cramer-Krasselt, Milwaukee.

Anheuser-Busch expanded nationally its test of Michelob Ultra late last year, and the brand has since been on a tear, with estimates that it will sell roughly 2 million barrels this year and become the country's No. 16 beer, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

contributing: hillary chura

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