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Food industry rushes to meet low-carb demand

The impact of the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet and other low-carbohydrate eating plans is everywhere at this year’s food industry show of new products.
Robin McLennan Murray, left, of Biscomerica, talks with Teri Erickson of Kelloggs about their low-carb cereals at the Food Marketing Institute trade show May 2 in Chicago.Brian Kersey / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Take a piece of pita bread, a little tuna, some olives and capers and — presto — it’s a low-carb “sort of Mediterranean” pizza. The impact of the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet and other low-carbohydrate eating plans is everywhere at this year’s food industry show of new products.

Food companies are trying hard to fit the current low-carb diet craze into their familiar product lines, and Margaret Dennis’ easy-to-make pita pizza was just one contribution at the exposition organized by the Food Marketing Institute. Also on display were low-carb candies, cereals and salad dressings.

In her white chef’s uniform, Dennis, a culinary consultant to Del Monte, was handing slices to passers-by. On the pita bread, she spread a corporate-brand pizza sauce, added flavored tuna that Del Monte sells in a pouch for the quick-lunch crowd, and threw on olives and capers.

And as long as the cook uses pita instead of standard pizza dough, the result will be a thin-crust product with 12 grams of carbohydrate per slice, roughly half the carbs of regular Mediterranean-style pizza, Dennis said.

From salad dressing to cereal
Kellogg Co. has reformulated a version of its calorie-sparing Special K cereal to be low-carb as well. “Consumers are looking for a low-carb lifestyle,” said Mike Greene, vice president of customer marketing. “It’s about alternatives.”

Kraft Foods Inc. also is exhibiting shelves of carb-oriented products, some already in stores and others waiting to be launched. Supermarkets now have four Kraft salad dressings without carbs.

In June, consumers could get a steak sauce with one gram of carbohydrate per serving to slather on their Atkins-approved meats. Also in June, Kraft will launch CarbWell cereals. And the company that put out SnackWell cookies in the days when consumers only watched fat calories will expand the line with SnackWell’s CarbWell cookies.

Kraft is not putting all its high-protein, low-carb eggs in one basket. “For folks who are watching fat, there’s the sugar-free SnackWell as well,” said spokeswoman Pat Riso.

Are trans fats next?
The food industry knows from experience it is subject to being swept by waves of diet fads.

Michael Sansolo, senior vice president of the Food Marketing Institute, said the current distaste for carbohydrates might be supplanted in a couple of years by avoidance of trans fats. Those substances have been linked with clogged arteries, and the federal government is beginning to require that amounts of trans fats be listed on labels.

The industry also knows that consumers want to go with what tastes good, regardless of the current craze.

At the Hershey Foods Corp. exhibit, there were dishes of bite-sized, individually wrapped Carb Alternative candies. Matt Podhajsky, an associate marketing manager for grocery products, said Hershey also had created a chocolate sauce with half the carbohydrates of its standard sauce.

This does not mean that the traditional fully carbed chocolate sauce will be driven off the shelves, Podhajsky said.

“There’s a lot of people who are looking for it just purely for that decadent value,” he said. “Especially people with ice cream.”