Atkins Begins 'Evolution' in Marketing, Products

NEW YORK -- A plunge in low-carb product sales overall and a declaration of bankruptcy earlier this month is not deterring Atkins Nutritionals from looking forward to the "evolution" of its brand beyond the carb-conscious product niche. "Our focus is on better food, better nutrition," noted Atkins marketing director Beth Neumann in an interview with Progressive Grocer.

In response to those who think that bankruptcy will slow the company down in its endeavors, Neumann was firm in her resolve that all systems are go at Atkins. "Everything done has made us faster, more flexible, and stronger," she noted, adding that the Atkins products were still carried in 30,000 stores and still had a 98 percent to 99 percent fill rate. One difference, she acknowledged, was that the company was approaching its advertising and other marketing activities with "even more fervor."

Neumann added that the health and wellness sector offers a "huge opportunity," and to that end, the company is rolling out an aggressive new marketing campaign, including advertisements, a redesigned Web site, and revamped packaging, to get that message of "superior nutrition" across to the public. After all, as Neumann asserted, "Atkins products compete against all nutrition bars/shakes, not just those that claim 'low carb.'" Further, of Atkins consumers -- "the most loyal in the category" -- fewer than 10 percent are actually even following a low-carb diet, she said.

Neumann said Atkins has always offered more than just low carbs. The company's products also are high in protein, contain no added sugar or sugar alcohols, and boast a low glycemic index, But in all the ballyhoo about carbs, that information might have gotten lost in the shuffle, she said. "The good thing is that we didn't have to add these things," she said. "They were always there." Now, Atkins prominently features these other attributes on new packaging, due on store shelves by January, and in its ads.

This new emphasis doesn't mean that Atkins is distancing itself from low-carb products, insisted Neumann, who called such items a "positive heritage -- people do [still] think about reducing carbs."

Neumann added, "I think our message cuts across demographics," emphasizing that a consumer with a strong interest in nutrition was the most attractive to Atkins. "Consumers are becoming increasingly educated, and therefore aware, of the importance of good nutrition."

The company recently rationalized its product line from 150 SKUs to 80, so it could concentrate on what it considers its core products -- among them nutrition bars and shakes, cereal, and confectionery -- under the Advantage, Morning Start, and Endulge brands. Neumann noted that the company was avidly exploring the potential of "real food" products such as granola and trail mixes.

An example of Atkins' new products is the Advantage caramel bar -- a first for the company -- in Cookie Dough and Fudge Brownie versions, although more are to come, promised Neumann. "We waited a long time to do a caramel bar," she remarked. "We wanted to make sure that we got it right." The bar is due to ship to Wal-Mart next month, then to other major grocers, including Kroger and Safeway.
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