Atkins products might have lasted had they been more closely geared to UK tastes and less linked to the diet

When brand leader Atkins Nutritionals UK went into administration in March, there was little love lost among its competitors.
Atkins capitalised on the popularity of the diet in the US by bringing in products such as its milkshakes, cake mixes, cereal bars and chocolate bars. However, over-investment and changing UK consumer tastes led to the company’s downfall.
David Marshall, MD of Xcarb, believes Atkins failed because its products were too far removed from UK tastes. “Atkins products were tailored to the US.”
Hannah Sutter, co-founder of Go Lower, believes the product formulation of the US products alienated the target consumer. “Highly manufactured products with artificial sweeteners would not do well in the UK. Low carb is for people with sophisticated taste buds. An Atkins bar would have gone against their principles.”
Carbolite, another low-carb brand imported from the US, is at pains to ensure it does not follow in Atkins’ footsteps. Mary
Young, marketing director at Retail Brands, which distributes Carbolite bars, is not blind to the fact that chocolate, in particular, is something UK and US taste buds disagree on. As a result, the company is carrying out NPD for the UK and intends to overhaul its chocolate bar range and formulation.
Nevertheless, nutrition company EAS is keen to push the American way, and has signed up supermodel Cindy Crawford to front its campaign. EAS produces low-carb snack bars, drinks and meal replacements under its AdvantEdge Carb Control brand, which has a similar feel to Atkins.
Peter Valentine, MD for EAS in the UK, says: “Atkins always had a stranglehold on the health food trade. Now low-carb customers will be looking for an alternative. AdvantEdge is perfectly placed for this.”
Perversely, the reason the Atkins brand was such an overnight success in the UK, by being so closely associated to the diet itself, also contributed to its downfall. James McCoy, senior market analyst at Mintel, believes that as the Atkins diet came under fire from the press and nutritionists, Atkins products also suffered.
“Our research has shown that people are avoiding anything with a direct connection to Atkins,” he says.
Marshall adds: “The stance the Atkins diet seemed to take was to control carbs at any cost. It appeared to be advocating a high-fat, high-protein diet, which created a bad image. Atkins got it wrong at the expense of wellbeing elsewhere.”
Nor is Atkins missed in Waitrose, according to Nigel Sharp, Waitrose buyer, health and wellbeing. He gauges consumer feedback not by what Waitrose stocks, but rather by what it doesn’t. In the case of Atkins products, he says, customers have been apathetic about their disappearance.
“We’ve had no stock of Atkins Nutritionals bars for the past couple of weeks and have not had one complaint.”