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Aug 4 2003

Fad boosts meat sales but starchy foods suffer

By Alexandra Williams


DEVOTEES of the controversial Atkins diet are not the only ones shedding the pounds.

Bakers and brewers are seeing a slimdown of profits because of the soaring popularity of the caveman diet craze.

The humble spud is also getting a mauling as dieters flock to the low-carbohydrate, high-protein regime.

Meanwhile, the carnivore community is whooping with joy as Britain is becoming a nation of red-meat eaters once again.

The diet has become a global brand, helped by a string of celebrity endorsements, including Jennifer Aniston, Minnie Driver, Robbie Williams and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Millions around the world are giving it a go, despite doomsayers suggesting devotees will end up with halitosis, or, worse still, kidney stones, liver failure and osteoporosis.

The Federation of Bakers is getting worried. Director John White says bread sales have been falling by between 1.5 per cent and two per cent for the past three years.

"One can speculate as to the reasons, but personally I have no doubt that Atkins has had an impact," he says.

"Everyone seems to be on it and people seem almost evangelical in their support of it.

"We can only hope that it's a fad that will pass."

Mr White warns against the diet, saying: "The science does not stack up. Even serious nutritionists will tell you that it is positively dangerous. The latest research says it's a one-way ticket to kidney stones."

A report by the federation claims 23 per cent of 25 to 33-year-olds and 22 per cent of all women are actively limiting starch and carbohydrate consumption, believing they're unhealthy. October will see the launch of the first British Bread Month, with the slogan "Use your loaf, have another slice".

And The Flour Advisory Bureau has signed up actress Denise Van Outen to front its Supermodel Eating System, a campaign to promote bread as part of a balanced diet.

It is also funding a study by the Medical Research Council into the benefits of a high-carbohydrate diet, the antithesis of Atkins.

The British Potato Council is giving the beleaguered vegetable a 1million makeover. And the gloves are off. They are directly taking on Atkins with the slogan "Fab not fad".

And there are plans for the potato, bread and rice industries to band together. They are thinking of holding a carbohydrate summit to devise a common strategy to counter the Atkins effect.

Other diet products are feeling the pinch, too. Unilever has been left with a dose of indigestion. Chairman Niall FitzGerald recently reported heavy losses, saying the success of the Atkins Diet has eaten into sales of Slim-Fast products.

And Roche Group, maker of Xenical, the prescription anti-obesity drug, had a 16 per cent fall in sales from 2001 to 2002 to 346million.

Atkins dieters can eat as much meat, fish, eggs and cheese as they like, but on no account must they be tempted by bread, potatoes, pasta and certain fruit.

A T-bone steak accompanied by a side order of a slab of cheddar and poached eggs is preferable to a side serving of boiled spuds. So it is not bad news for all. Winners have emerged. Certain fruits are in high demand. Tesco says watermelon sales are up 64 per cent on last year, peppers 42 per cent, raspberries 38 per cent and apples 37 per cent.

The Meat and Livestock Commission has seen profits soar in recent years. Red meat sales are at a peak. They have grown 11 per cent since the height of the BSE crisis in 1996.

A spokesman says: "There's a definite rise in meat sales across the board. The Atkins Diet is a definite factor in the rise."

Waitrose has seen a 16 per cent increase in the sales of meat during the past year. while bread has suffered.

A spokeswoman for the supermarket chain says: "The Atkins Diet has had an impact on our sales. It has definitely been influential."

Safeway has seen an increase in herbal tea sales and a decline in bread demand.

THE diet, pioneered more than 30 years ago, is a marketing phenomenon. The US is the biggest market, followed by Britain, then Japan and Italy.

Even the death of Dr Robert Atkins, 72, in April, after he slipped and hit his head on the short walk to his New York office, has not slowed the brand's rise.

His widow Veronica, who inherited his 6million fortune, and Paul Wolff, Atkins Nutritionals' chief executive, have vowed to continue his work.

The diet guru's book is the second most popular read in Britain, outselling everything but Harry Potter by three to one.

Since the first Atkins New Diet Revolution was published in the UK four years ago, it has sold two million copies.

However, once the carbohydrate supporters launch their fight-back consumers may need never diet again.

Just the stress of having to choose between carbs and protein will surely be a great way to shed the pounds.


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