Over half of all Americans have tried a low carb diet, are currently following a reduced or low carb diet or are considering trying such a diet, according to new research.


Low carb diets such as Atkins, The Zone, and The South Beach Diet have swept the US. With constant news regarding Americans’ struggle with obesity, low carb diets appeal by including high fat products that before were considered taboo.


Mintel’s report on low carb foods (which will be published in May 2004) finds that over 50% of Americans have tried the diet in the past, are currently on the diet or are cutting back carbs, or would try it in the future.  The reach of low carb dieting affects all aspects of the food industry, from the declining sales of potatoes, refrigerated orange juice and instant rice, to the repositioning of classics such as beef jerky, to the battle in the beer cooler over whose product is lowest in carbohydrates.


A healthier way to eat?


Mintel’s exclusive research on low carbohydrate diets also reveals that low carb dieters follow the strict regimen for reasons other than just weight loss. Surprisingly, of those who are on a low carb diet, 75% cut back on carbs because they believe it is a healthier way to eat.  Nearly two-thirds of low carb dieters say that they follow the diet in order to lose weight.  These results show that the low carb phenomenon may well be a movement in attitudes toward food and eating.  In addition, three out of every five low carb dieters say that they plan to limit their carbohydrate intake for life.  One of the difficulties, however, with low carb diets is that the strict eating plan is hard to maintain – 40% of low carb dieters say that it’s hard to stay on a low carb diet for more than a few months at a time.  There are also the special occasions where 67% of low carb dieters don’t limit the carbs they consume.

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Low carb dieters have the luxury of eating foods that are higher in fat, but there are certain foods that they have to omit such as pastas and breads.  Over half of those on low carb diets have either totally stopped eating or are eating less bread and/or pasta.  However, other foods such as meat, poultry and seafood, nuts, and meat snacks have benefited from this diet trend.  One-third of these dieters report eating more meat, poultry and seafood and one-third report eating more nuts.  The nuts and dried fruits market grew 7.9% from 2002 to 2003, and the meat snacks market grew a whopping 147% from 1997 to 2002.


“Americans’ infatuation with low carb dieting does not mean the death of bread. The diet does allow certain carbohydrates after the initial ‘Induction’ phase, and this is why we are seeing sales of wheat and specialty breads increase to a degree,” says Dr. Marla Commons, senior research analyst for Mintel.  “This diet craze has many facets which appeal to consumers in the short term, but the real question is if they stick to it long term.”


America leads the way


While experts are still debating the long-term effects of these types of diets, consumers’ short-term success at losing weight has created enough of a wave of dieters that many food manufacturers and restaurants are responding to consumer demand with Atkins-acceptable meals.  Low carbohydrate foods could potentially change the face of new product introductions and the entire food industry. Consumers want low carb food options and 42% of those on the diet say that they are worth paying extra for, and one out of five of those not currently on the low carb diet agree. 


According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, there are 930 new products bearing low carb claims which were introduced in the last five years, with most of the growth coming in 2003 and 2004.  The US has seen 375 new products with low carb claims this year.  This is substantial in comparison to the 289 products in all of 2003 that were introduced with low carb claims.  By far, the US leads the way in the low carb arena in terms of new product introductions.  Second to the US is Canada, with 37 low carb products year to date in 2004.  From a global perspective, only five countries have products in this category: US, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Israel.  Of the low carb products introduced, 98% have been in North America and those outside North America have been, almost exclusively, imported from the United States.