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« Frederick Turner | Main | Taunton Press »

February 18, 2004

The Low-Carb Economy

Dear Friedrich --

You and I have been marveling over the way low-carb-mania has taken hold of the culture, but we've been doing so in our usual lazybones, impressionistic way. Fortune magazine's Matthew Boyle has the down and dirty. Some fun facts from his recent story (pay-per-view but with a lengthy teaser, here):

  • The wholesale price of eggs has almost doubled this year. "The stock of Cal-Maine Foods, the leading U.S. fresh-egg producer, was up over 800% last year."
  • "Editors at the OED are considering adding an entry for 'Atkins'."
  • There are now 250 low-carb specialty stores.
  • A low-carb industry newsletter is guesstimating that the low-carb foodbiz should hit $20 billion this year.
  • Michelob's low-carb Ultra beer was expected to sell a million barrels last year. Instead, it sold 3 million barrels.
  • Bread consumption in America peaked in 1997, at 147 pounds per person. It's now down to 137 pounds per person. The bread industry's newsletter says that "40% of Americans ate less bread last year than they did the year before."
  • Sales of the products of low-carb producer Keto Foods are growing at a 300% clip.

Thank heavens for real journalists, eh?

Fortune's reasonably-generous website is here.



UPDATE: I notice in this morning WSJ a small piece about the vogue for low-carb eating. Richard Gibson reports that 11% of Americans currently say they're eating low-carb, and that another 20% say they're likely to try doing so soon. In this morning's NYTimes, there's an interesting and informative front-page article about the "low-carb boom" by Kate Zernike and Marian Burros. It can be read here.

posted by Michael at February 18, 2004


Not, of cource, that most of the people who bought the low carb stuff know any facts either. Remember "fat free" products sales went through the roof 10 years ago. People are generally just sheep. They heard on the news that low-carb is "good" so they buy low-carb stuff. It's like the old Jif peanut butter ads that said they had "more real peanuts." So they guilted the mothers in America into buying their peanut butter because if you really care about your family you'll buy the "real peanuts" stuff. They never mentioned, and mothers never considered, all the other preservatives they stuck into Jif, which made it no more healthy than Peter Pan peanut butter.

These are marketing facts, but once again, even the real journalists haven't explored whether there's any sense behind this purchasing trend.

Posted by: annette on February 19, 2004 8:22 AM

It's at this point that the low-carb diet will cease to work. It worked before because there were only so many pork rinds one could stuff down before getting sick; now that low-carb candy bars are on the market, all bets are off. Low-carbers will go the way of the low-fat dieters, who can't understand why they don't lose weight after downing an entire box of Snackwells brownie cakes.

We had a cookout yesterday, and were pleased to discover that our sausages were carb free --- my husband combined his no-carb sausage with a no-fat bun, and decided he had achieved diet perfection.

Posted by: C. S. Froning on February 19, 2004 10:20 AM

Yeah, it'll be interesting to see how much of a passing fashion it turns out to be. On the one hand, how could it not be just another fad? On the other, though, I wonder ... I dunno, it seems to me to maybe represent an interesting populist revolt -- bunches of regular people waking up to the fact that our "experts" don't really know what the hell they're talking about. If there's anything to that hunch -- does anyone else think there might be? -- maybe it also represents an interesting moment, when people decide to take their experts a little less seriously. I'm all for that. But maybe I'm being too hopeful...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 19, 2004 11:25 AM

I see it as a way to cheat and still feel good about yourself. The whole point of the Atkins diet is to change your eating patterns and way of life, not to buy a bunch of high priced, generally nasty tasting products. I find it interesting in the store I shop at that they put all the "low carb" specialty food either in the fruit/veggie section or right next to the meat section. Since Atkins means shopping around the edges of the grocery store and avoiding all the pasta and cereal aisles, that's right where they market the stuff.

Posted by: Deb on February 19, 2004 12:50 PM

Actually, Annette, I believe this who low-carb/Atkins trend really began to pick up steam when a real New York Times journalist (Gary Taube) wrote an article (that read like a meta-study) on weight loss and health a couple years back. It was a fascinating read because he did not conclude that low-carb diets were the "best," rather he demonstrated that nutrition and health "experts" have not been handing down the straight dope to rest of the populace, and pointed out some of the conflicts of interests that prevent good information from getting to the public.

Posted by: Carl Jung on February 19, 2004 1:55 PM

I'm with Annette on this one. Forgive my cynical view, but here goes:

(1) People will buy anything. ANYTHING.

(2) People want to better themselves, but, given a choice between a change that requires, say, 6 units of effort (changing dietary habits strictly as the diet suggests) and a change that requires 1 unit of effort (grabbing the loaf of Wonder bread that sports a bright new Low Carb! logo), guess which one they'll choose?

(3) People are sheep. They don't give a hoot what the label says and they certainly will never learn to read one themselves. It's enough - and frankly much more important - that all the guys at the gym and all the gals in the book club are eating these foods.

Harumph. When I grow up I'm going to be a cantankerous old codger.

Can a woman be a codger?

Posted by: Dente on February 19, 2004 2:07 PM

If anyone says "Codgerette" I'm going to brain them.

Posted by: annette on February 19, 2004 2:34 PM

I prefer "Crone" actually, annette, gnawing my crust of dry bread with my toothless gums and cackling as children run helpless with fear from my presence.

Posted by: Deb on February 19, 2004 2:40 PM

But what's important here Deb is that your crust of dry bread be carb-free.

Posted by: Dente on February 19, 2004 3:29 PM

Not to offend anyone, but I always wonder if people who announce smugly that "people are sheep" include themselves in that category. Do they see themselves as fierce sheepdogs? Kindly shepards? Lambs who have wandered off and gotten themselves stuck in a culvert?

Just asking'...

Posted by: jimbo on February 19, 2004 6:28 PM

I wasn't intending to exclude myself from the sheep line. I just admit it, as opposed to lots and lots of fitness-conscious people. So I guess I am a self-aware sheep.

Posted by: annette on February 20, 2004 2:15 PM

I just saw a T.V. show that examined the myth that Atkins was personally overweight and had a terrible heart condition when he died; neither of these things were true. I find it intriguing the extent of the hostility to his work; I guess he really gored too many sacred cows.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 21, 2004 4:06 AM

Tired of Low Carb Mania? Voice your opinion!

Posted by: Mike A on May 18, 2004 12:18 PM

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