Unilever goes low-carb down-under

Related tags Carbohydrate Nutrition

Unilever yesterday turned its nose up at any talk of a decline in
the low-carb market and introduced 23 lines - the biggest launch in
the company's history - into Australian supermarkets, according to
an article in The Australian.

The publication noted that Unilever​ believes the low-carb market could be worth $50 million within two years, citing surveys that suggested up to 4.4 million Australians were already trying to lower their carbohydrate intake.

In order to give the brand instant credibility, Unilever has appended the new Carb Options brand to some of it existing lines.

The company's Australasian chairman Peter Slator is quoted as saying: "If our estimates are correct, we would hope to see the [low-carb] market grow to the tune of $50 million in the next two years."

The new product lines, which include soups, sauces, pastas and cereals, have apparently been developed locally to suit Australian tastes.

The low-carb movement seemed to suffer its biggest wobble yet earlier this month when Atkins Nutritionals, the US-based company behind the trend hired a turnaround specialist to shake up its business in the wake of increasing competition and waning consumer interest in low-carb diets.

The private company also announced it was to cut jobs and take other measures to boost efficiency.

However, these difficulties appeared to be restricted to the US. The firm's UK division, which launched its first products on the market earlier this year, said it was seeing no such pressure and was instead benefiting from "an exceptionally positive response"​ to its products, available in Boots, Holland & Barrett and health food stores.

It has also extended distribution of the products this month to the leading supermarket chains Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Superdrug.

A statement from Atkins UK managing director Roger Spicer said: "There are over three million people in the UK who are currently following the Atkins low-carb lifestyle. I'm delighted to say that our sales are buoyant and there are no signs of a downward trend."

He added that growing demand for low-carb products in the UK is illustrated by the increasing number of companies entering the market.

This appears to be supported by recent research carried out by Reuters, which found that over a quarter of food and drink companies in the UK, Europe and US view the development of low-carb foods as a priority and are actively investing in research and development of new products.

But the situation in the US suggests that there the low-carb market could become quickly saturated, and may be susceptible to competition from new diet regimes.

Meanwhile UK nutritionists and food makers are increasingly looking at the low glycaemic index as a more 'sensible' way of measuring healthy carb intake.

"Not many brands are well-placed enough to support a low-carb range,"​ Mintel analyst David Jago told NutraIngredients.com earlier this year. "And this is not the first time that low-carbs have come around. There was also a lot of noise about the diet in the 70s but it never really took off."

He added: "The low-carb trend gives companies the perfect opportunity to start talking about GI. It is in some ways a more educated approach to carbohydrate control and we are expecting some food industry players to jump on the low-carb bandwagon to promote this new diet."

Many fibre suppliers are indeed starting to do so, including Dutch firm Acatris promoting its Fenugreek extract and National Starch with its resistant starch.

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