Low carb sweeps Australia; sales slow in UK

Amid predictions the low-carb boom may be waning in the US, little European interest in the concept and conflicting data about its effectiveness, Unilever has rolled out one of the biggest food launches in Australia?s history with 23 lines aimed at low-carb dieters including soups, pasta, cooking sauce and breakfast cereals.

Unilever Australia estimates the market could hit $50 million within two years with about 4.4 million people, or 30 per cent of the population, looking to reduce their carbohydrate intake. The launch is being backed by a press campaign to inform consumers about low-carb dieting.

?I don?t think it?s hype,? chairman Peter Slator told an Australian TV station. ?I really do think it?s mainstream.? He expected other major Australian food companies to launch low-carb ranges within three to six months.

In the UK, a Mintel report suggests British consumers are not embracing low-carb eating with only three per cent, or 1.35 million people, pursuing a low-carb lifestyle. Research from Reuters Business Insight found 57 per cent of UK consumers had tried a low-carb diet, but 32 per cent lasted no more than a week.

Despite this, brands like Atkins Nutritionals UK and Carbolite Europe continue to extend their ranges and gain wider distribution, including in major supermarkets. Atkins has set up production facilities in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands and is selling product into selected European markets. Carbolite recently launched a range of low-carb sandwiches in the UK, and Nestle has debuted a low-carb version of its famous KitKat and Rolo chocolate snacks.

Mintel valued the UK low-carb market at $500 million in 2004 and stated: ?Evidence suggests that many who have tried a low-carb diet are still not convinced by the science and feel that reducing fat is still the best and healthiest way to lose weight and keep it off.?

Canada has banned companies from using the phrase ?low-carb? on products in 2005, citing a lack of evidence for low-carb dieting efficacy.

It is estimated the US low-carb market is worth more than $1 billion.

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