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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 May, 2004, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Atkins cheer for beef and beer
Miller Lite logo
The Miller Lite brand has won a new lease of life
The popular Atkins diet - whose adherents replace carbohydrates with extra protein - seems for once to be working in the food industry's favour.

Brewing giant SAB Miller and the US beef industry have both credited Atkins for sharp turnaround in their fortunes.

SABMiller said surging sales of its low-carb Miller Lite beer had helped lift annual profits by nearly 50%.

And in the US, beef barons said Atkins had contributed to a 10% rise in beef prices this year.

Brand revival

According to SABMiller, sales of Miller Lite have shown double digit percentage growth in the last few months, with the brand now accounting for two thirds of profits at the US-based Miller operation.

It would be wrong to steer the offer exclusively towards Atkins
Andrew Saunders, Numis Securities
The company, the world's second-biggest brewer, said annual earnings before interest, taxes and amortisation rose 49% on the year to $1.89bn (1.07bn), while sales climbed 41% to $12.6bn.

"The low-carb effect has been useful as it has prompted a reappraisal of the brand," SABMiller chief executive Graham MacKay said.

Protein-hungry Atkins dieters also had a hand in a 10.4% jump in average beef prices during the first three months of the year, according to the Colorado-based National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

It said the Atkins diet had helped keep demand constant despite a mad cow scare six months ago, while supply fell back because of drought in the American mid-west last year.

"Consumers are willing to consume the same amount at higher prices," said Jim Robb, director of the Livestock Marketing Information Centre.

SABMiller and US beef farms are rare examples of food businesses to have profited from the Atkins craze.

Slimmer profits

The diet, named after its inventor, the late Dr Robert Atkins, has seriously dented the sales of many supposedly unassailable food brands, catching the industry's biggest names on the hop.

US fast food giant Krispy Kreme doughnuts blamed the Atkins diet when it issued its first ever profit warning earlier this month.

Beef is as popular as ever in the US despite a BSE scare
Anglo-Dutch consumer goods titan Unilever has also felt the pinch, pointing the finger at Atkins after sales of its Slim Fast range of low-calorie foods plummeted last year.

The diet has even slashed sales of that most basic consumer staple, the potato. Last year, the British Potato Council launched a publicity campaign under the slogan "Fab not fad" in an effort to reverse a 10% sales slump in 2002.

With recent research by Morgan Stanley suggesting that 11% of American adults are following low-carbohydrate diets, the food industry is scrambling to catch up.

Heinz has launched a low-carb version of its iconic ketchup tomato sauce, US restaurant chain TGI Friday's is offering an Atkins-friendly menu, and Kraft Foods - the biggest US food manufacturer of all - is also busily developing low-carb products.

However, industry experts caution against betting too heavily on Atkins, arguing that it may prove to be merely the latest in a series of short-lived food fads.

"It would be wrong to steer the offer exclusively towards Atkins," said Andrew Saunders, food industry analyst at Numis Securities in the UK.

"Not everyone is on Atkins, and the best food retailers are those that have the widest choice. Low-carb products will just be another category that food producers can think about."

SabMiller chief executive Graham McKay
talks to the BBC's World Business Report

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