Low-carb offering expands in UK

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: New products, Uk, Low-carbohydrate diet, Carbohydrate

The first wave of low-carb foods to compete with the Atkins brand
reached the UK market last month but not all global food makers are
confident of the trend's longevity in the European marketplace,
writes Dominique Patton.

Since Atkins entered the UK market at the end of last year, the only rivals until recently have been other US firms like Keto and Carbolite. Industry observers suggested that UK firms would be unlikely to follow a diet fad that has existed since the 1970's.

But recent months have seen a number of new products for carb-counting consumers. After a low-carb Kit Kat from Nestlé division Rowntree, Unilever has introduced an entire low-carb grocery range in the UK, made up of 17 'everyday products' under the Carb Options name.

The company says the range has been created in response to the explosion of 'carb conscious' consumers who do not want to go on extreme diets. It cites statistics from a survey of 1000 consumers carried out in June this year, showing that one in five people in the UK are 'watching' their carb intake, in contrast to only one in 50 who are actually on the Atkins diet.

Other companies that have entered the market recently include British Bakeries which has launched a white bread under its Hovis brand with 25 per cent less carbohydrates than normal white bread, called Best with Less.

Irish Pride Bakeries has also introduced bread said to contain 28 per cent less carbohydrate for carb counting consumers in Ireland, while Belgian firm Guylian is planning to introduce a low carb chocolate bar in the UK this month, said to have only 2g net carbohydrates per 28g serving.

The product introductions appear to support research released by Reuters in May, 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.

A quarter of the companies polled in the survey said they had already manufactured a product under the low-carb umbrella, and two thirds of them said they saw the expansion of the low-carb sector as an opportunity.

A recent statement from Atkins UK managing director Roger Spicer suggests the firm may benefit from increased competition. "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."

But not all major food makers have responded to this demand for reduced carbohydrate diets. A spokesperson for the world's second biggest food maker Kraft Foods denied a recent story in UK trade publication Marketing Week suggesting that it will introduce its low-carbohydrate brand Carb Well to the UK market.

Launched in the US in May, Carb Well includes a range of salad dressings, cereals and cereal bars, sauces and biscuits. The firm has also set up a partnership with the South Beach Diet, an alternative 'low-carb' regime, with some of its food labels in the US indicating that the products can be eaten by those following the diet.

But Jonathan Horrell, manager of corporate affairs at Kraft Foods UK, said: "We obviously review within each country unit what we should do in terms of reformulating our products and whether there are opportunities to introduce variants of existing products or new products."

"But we do not consider there to be demand for the range in the UK and we have no plans to launch it here,"​ he told NutraIngredients.com.

Kraft claims to be the global leader in the soft white cheese category with the Philadelphia brand and holds either the number one or number two market share positions in the UK for coffee, soft white and processed cheese, convenience meals (Lunchables), custards, cold instant desserts and dressings.

Like all global food companies, it is under pressure to demonstrate its commitment to healthy eating. In the UK, it will start labelling guideline daily amounts for calories and fat this autumn. But lower fat is still a greater priority than reduced carbohydrates.

"Our Philadelphia Light and Extra Light range now makes almost 60 per cent of the total sales in the UK and for the first time this year we are advertising the Light version in its own right. The shift continues towards reduced fat versions,"​ said Horrell.

Whether Kraft will have to change tack in future remains to be seen. But James McCoy, senior consultant at Mintel, says he has seen fewer new products than expected.

"We're not seeing as many as I originally thought we would. Even products like Nestle's KitKat still only has limited distribution,"​ he said.

"We value the current market at around £280 million (€405m) but growth will very much depend on how the early products perform,"​ he added.

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