Unilever in hunt for agencies to launch new low-carb line

LONDON - Unilever Bestfoods is looking beyond its roster agencies as it prepares its UK debut into the fashionable low-carb market.

The Anglo-Dutch manufacturing conglomerate is understood to have approached both roster and non-roster agencies in preparation for the launch of Carb Options, a low-carbohydrate range for weight-conscious consumers.

The 17-strong range, which is being specially formulated for the UK market, will include sauces, pasta and soups.

The above-the-line launch, planned for later this year, will be supported by sampling and in-store promotion.

To reinforce the new offering, Carb Options' products will be endorsed by Unilever's Knorr and Hellmann's brands.

The range will target consumers who want a hassle-free way of reducing their carbohydrate intake without having to compromise on food and who do not necessarily wish to follow a strict Atkins regime.

Unilever announced its Carb Options plans in January off the back of the brand's success in the US, where the low-carb category has developed into a $1 billion market. Ogilvy & Mather handles the account in the US.

The range is seen as a key factor in helping Unilever to rebuild its underperforming foods division, a priority for the company's chief executive, Patrick Cescau.

Last year, Unilever was hit by one of the fastest shifts in eating behaviour of the past decade, with consumers switching to high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets.

The Unilever-owned Slimfast, the flagship brand of the manufacturer's health and wellness foods unit, has suffered as a result.

Sales of the brand, for which Unilever reportedly paid £1.4 billion three years ago, have dropped by almost 30 per cent since the launch of the Atkins diet. The Slimfast brand has subsequently been blamed as a major contributor to the troubles encountered by Unilever's development plan.

Instead of the projected 5 per cent or 6 per cent, the company grew by around 3 per cent last year. The Atkins range, meanwhile, has been helped by a string of informal celebrity endorsements.

The Friends actress Jennifer Anniston and the English actress Minnie Driver are both known to have adopted low-carbohydrate diets. Their figures have helped to inspire 17 per cent of Americans to try the Atkins diet.

Sales of bread and potatoes have slumped recently, while supermarkets have reported record sales of fruit salads.

Meanwhile, the Meat and Livestock Commission reported a rise in meat sales across the board, and cited the trend for high-protein diets.

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