December 20, 2004
Bill Falletta of Mesa tried a low-carb diet, but it was too difficult to follow. "Sometimes I felt that I didn’t have enough calories," said Falletta, an avid hiker and mountain bike rider.
"It’s a pretty disciplined diet. Part of it also was I just like to eat too much."
Falletta, 56, exemplifies why many diet and food industry experts are declaring the low-carb diet craze over.
A study by NPD Group, an independent marketing information company, found that the percentage of American adults on any low-carb diet in 2004 peaked at 9.1 percent in February and dropped to 4.9 percent by early November.
Further, it said only one of four people surveyed was significantly cutting carbs and ‘‘virtually none’’ were reducing carbs as much as the diets recom- mended.
That means many companies that rode the low-carb wave are either out of business or refocusing their strategies.
One example: MGP Ingredients of Atchison, Kan., which profited from the trend, said this month it was cutting its fiscal 2005 pershare earnings forecast by more than half — from $1.08 to no more than 50 cents.
The reason is reduced demand for its specialty proteins and starches used to reduce carbohydrates in foods. MGP said low-carb demand had peaked, and it did not expect it to return to anywhere near the level that sparked a 123 percent increase in sales in the third quarter of fiscal 2004.
MGP always expected the low-carb demand to cool, but it happened more quickly than anticipated, spokesman Steve Pickman said.
‘‘We expected at least to continue at its strong level for the next 18 to 36 months,’’ Pickman said. ‘‘We by no means feel low-carb is dead, but it’s declined to a much lower plateau than we or the industry expected.’’
While MGP’s future is not threatened, many smaller businesses based on low-carb products have closed their doors, and larger companies that introduced low-carb foods are changing strategies.
American Italian Pasta, the nation’s largest producer of dry pasta, reported a net loss of $12.2 million, or 67 cents per share, in the second quarter of this year. The company’s reduced-carb pasta was a flop, with sales 50 percent lower than expected. Chief executive Tim Webster said the company planned to begin marketing it as a low-calorie product.
No one expects low-carb products to disappear. AC Ni elsen LabelTrends reported that sales of products labeled for low-carb lifestyles were still growing but had slowed. Sales, in terms of dollars, rose only 6.1 percent for the 13 weeks ended Sept. 25, compared with the previous quarter. That compared with a 105.5 percent increase in the 13 weeks that ended March 27.
That decline is not surprising, even at Atkins Nutritionals, a company founded 30 years ago by Dr. Robert Atkins to spread the low-carb gospel.