- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Potato farmers, Florida citrus growers and other high-carb industries are fighting back against the current craze for low-carbohydrate diets by rolling out campaigns to promote their foods.

Other food companies with high-carb products, such as pasta manufacturers, are introducing low-carb alternatives in a scramble to capitalize on the low-carb phenomenon.

The U.S. Potato Board, a Denver group of 100 potato growers, will begin a $4.4 million campaign next month to promote “The Healthy Potato.” The campaign focuses on the potato’s nutritional aspects, which often are overlooked by consumers, spokeswoman Linda McCashion said.

The campaign also will be promoted at Weight Watchers centers nationwide next month. Weight Watchers International Inc., a Woodbury, N.J., weight-loss services company, is starting a “Pick of the Season” education campaign to encourage healthy eating of fruits and vegetables. It will showcase the potato first.

“With so much talk about low-carb diets out there, fruits, vegetables and grains have been misperceived as unhealthy when really they are an important part of the diet,” spokesman Jerry Casanova said.

The potato campaign was started after three years of declining consumer support for the starchy tuber.

The Florida Department of Citrus is spending about $1.8 million on a marketing campaign to combat the negative image orange juice has earned owing to low-carb diets.

Orange juice consumption has dropped by 44 million gallons, or 5 percent, from 888 million gallons in the 2000-01 growing season. Citrus officials said a noticeable drop occurred in March, when low-carb diets were exploding on the market.

The Wheat Foods Council, a Parker, Colo., association for the grains industry, has been pushing the “Grains of Truth About Fad Diets and Obesity,” a campaign featuring a March Gallup Poll in which 75 percent of respondents said low-carb diets offer quick results but few long-term benefits.

But not all high-carb food companies are worried.

Irwin Steinberg, spokesman for the Tortilla Industry Association, said few of the Eagan, Minn., trade group’s 175 members have reported sluggish sales in the past year.

“Some members have introduced a low-carb tortilla, but overall sales have not dropped off this year,” he said.

Chiquita Brands International Inc., a Cincinnati marketer of bananas and other produce, posted a 1.8 percent increase in U.S. sales in the past year.

“Our sales growth has been modest, but there are a number of factors that impact banana consumption,” said spokesman Mike Mitchell. “With regard to the low-carb diets, it is difficult to say how much that is attributed” to the slow growth.

Although there has been some concern among citrus growers, the National Juice Products Association, a Washington trade group, has no plans to address the low-carb phenomenon, said spokeswoman Kristen Kendrick.

Low-carb diets often artificially keep the body in a state of ketosis, a condition the body enters when it does not have enough energy, said Katherine Tallmadge, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

“The result is people have less of an appetite and lose the pounds because they eat fewer calories,” said Ms. Tallmadge, a dietitian in the District.

However, studies have shown that people are more likely to regain the weight they quickly lose on low-carb diets.

“People who have consistently kept the weight off eat a balanced meal from a variety of proteins and exercise on a regular basis,” Ms. Tallmadge said.

Still, other food companies with high-carb products are producing a low-carb alternative for customers strictly following diets such as Atkins or South Beach.

The American Italian Pasta Co., a Kansas City, Mo., manufacturer of Mueller’s, Golden Grain, R&F;, Ronco and Anthony’s brands pasta, plans to roll out a reduced-carbohydrate pasta in five varieties by mid-February.

Tim Webster, president and chief executive officer, said the options are the best way to attract pasta lovers sticking to low-carb diets.

“It’s a way for consumers to keep eating a family favorite without having to reduce the frequency of consumption,” Mr. Webster said.

Overall pasta sales in the country declined 4 percent in the past year, said Mr. Webster, also chairman of the National Pasta Association, a Washington trade group.

Tropicana, the orange juice division of Pepsico Inc., also introduced a low-calorie and low-carb orange juice. Spokeswoman Kristine Ickel said the company has concentrated more on advertising Tropicana Light ‘n Healthy as a low-calorie alternative.

“Research tells us that consumers are looking more carefully at their calorie intake” than their carbohydrates, Mrs. Ickel said.

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