Low-carb hits dieting industry

Related tags Low-carb diets Obesity Diets

Weight Watchers International has blamed the low-carbohydrate diet
fad for a decline in quarterly profit margins after announcing a
9.4 per cent profit fall on Tuesday.

The dieting company's results provide further evidence of the degree to which low-carb is changing consumers' eating and dieting habits. The US market for baked goods has fallen by five per cent in the last year, with doughnut firm Krispy Kreme last Friday citing the low-carb diet for its depressed results. The company's Hot Original Glazed doughnut contains 200 calories, with more than half coming from fat, which is said to give the fried doughnut added texture and flavour. Since last spring, low-carb diets such as Atkins and South Beach have entranced Americans, with 17 per cent claiming to have tried the Atkins diet and 4 per cent still on the diet according to a recent market survey.

For Weight Watchers, this level of take-up has turned the dieting market on its head. Weight Watchers does not exempt specific foods from its diets, instead encourages a reduction in the calories consumed, and Chief Executive Linda Huett is critical of the media representation of low-carb diets. "We didn't find the media as balanced in the US as in Europe. Extreme diets were not even questioned here, but actively supported, so it's hardly surprising that people took them up."

In Europe, low-carb has been less of a revolution. In the UK, the British appetite for carbohydrates remains strong, with the British Potato Council (BPC) finding little change from the average demand of 103kg per head per year. This maintains the UK's position as the third largest European consumer in this sector behind Portugal and Ireland, although the Federation of Bakers said that UK bread consumption was facing up to a 1.5 per cent drop in sales per annum, despite it having the most competitive price for bread in Europe.

However, sales of the Atkins diet book continue to soar, raising fears that the popularity of the diet has not yet peaked in Europe. Both flour millers and the BPC recently expressed concerns about the potential impact of low-carb diets at a joint Home Grown Cereals Authority / National Association of British and Irish Millers conference.Managing director of Smiths Flour Mills, Peter Knight, said it was important to understand whether the latest dieting trend was here to stay, and the broader impact on cereal goods producers from the falling US baked goods market. There is a "need to decide whether it is a threat or opportunity, and manage it accordingly,"​he stressed.

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