Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: Nestle Gambles on Low-Carb Craze

Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: Nestle Gambles on Low-Carb Craze

Article excerpt

The confectionery giant believes Atkins-style dieters will pay a premium for a low-carb Kit Kat, writes Claire Murphy

You couldn't fault the quality of Nestle Rowntree's PR planning last week.

Stories about its introduction of low-carbohydrate Kit Kats and Rolos appeared in the media just two days before the hard-hitting report on obesity from the House of Commons health select committee was published.

Food firms have been steeling themselves for the report ever since McDonald's, PepsiCo, Kellogg and Cadbury-Schweppes were grilled by MPs last November. Although it contained some stringent recommendations for the industry, there were some morsels of good news for Nestle UK's confectionery marketers.

The report recommends that manufacturers and retailers do more than focus solely on reducing fat levels by adding refined carbohydrates or sugars; it wants them to introduce food products with lower 'energy density' - a measure of a food's calorie content in relation to its total volume.

As a result, the Nestle low-carb products have drawn a cautious welcome from the committee. 'We'll have to see how robust these products are, but this is one example of the steps that need to be taken,' says MP Keith Bradley. Chairman David Hinchliffe argues that the net effect would only be positive if consumers don't choose to eat more because of the low carbohydrate levels.

Of course, Nestle's low-carb confectionery was not devised primarily to toe parliament's line on curbing obesity, even if this is a PR-friendly (and politically astute) side-effect. Nestle is targeting the 3m UK consumers dodging bread and potatoes in an effort to stick to low-carb diets.

Diet frenzy

The Atkins phenomenon is becoming hugely influential, and is fast replacing low fat as the dieting flavour of the month. Only last week, two American reports showed that, contrary to the suspicions of the medical establishment, people do lose weight by cutting their intake of carbohydrates, with no identified health problems.

Manufacturers are rushing to develop products that can capitalise on this trend. UK consumers can already buy low-carb beer and bread, as well as a range of Atkins-branded food in Boots. A Reuters Business Insight report found that over a quarter of European and US food and drink companies are actively researching low-carb products.

Is it a step too far to extend this trend to chocolate? Confectionery companies' innovation departments have tried and failed to launch healthy versions of chocolate bars before. Mars tested a low-fat version of its Mars Bar, dubbed Mars Light, in 1997, only to conclude that the product's taste wasn't good enough.

Jon Platt, an inventor working with one of the major confectionery firms at innovation agency What If?, believes confectionery is a category consumers don't expect to be healthy. 'Consumers compartmentalise their eating occasions,' he says. 'They may eat healthily so that they can indulge in a product such as chocolate at other times.'

With all the publicity about obesity over the past year, consumers may be ready to accept 'healthy' confectionery. …

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