Andrea Halperin is going against the consumer trend wave with her F3 Fat Free Foods store, but does challenging mainstream demand make economic sense?

Her New York store has been open for 15 months and is still unprofitable, carrying over 7,000 fat-free food products for that minority of consumers who are not backlashing against diets with richer foods. During the course of 2000, retail sales in the US plummeted by 33% for fat-free potato crisps, 22% for fat-free ice cream and 12% for fat-free cookies and fat-free margarine, according to AC Nielsen.  Nevertheless, Halperin plans to expand the store, with its 12-year lease, into a chain of similar ventures.

According to a marketing professor at a major US university, this ambition may well become viable if it is pitched as a small specialist market. This is increasingly necessary as many processors are moving away from manufacturing fat-free foods.

Rather than attempting to reconvert consumers who long ago decided fat-free meant tasteless, Halperin appears to focus on that minority consumer who wants it at whatever cost. "For people who want fat-free food, there has been no ideal place to get it. You had to go to multiple stores," she said, "And I knew that the selection was shrinking in regular, standard stores."