Despite rising obesity levels, fewer consumers admit to being on a diet. Yet the low-calorie market is growing. Helen Gregory reports

More shoppers are going ‘super size’ - not just choosing mega-packs of fattening food and drink, but piling on the pounds.
With 43% of men and 34% of women overweight, according to the British Heart Foundation, there’s no sign that people are heeding government warnings about obesity.
Some are at least trying to lose weight - on either low carb or low glycaemic index diets, or newcomers such as the Australian Total Wellbeing diet - but fewer people admit to actually dieting; one third are constantly on a diet compared with 44% a year ago, says ACNielsen. However, this doesn’t mean that the low-calorie market isn’t doing well - indeed, it’s worth nearly £2bn and growing at 4% a year [TNS 52 w/e October 9, 2005]. Manufacturers are only too willing to offer new products to help people to shift the pounds and, according to an ACNielsen survey, 28% are willing to pay more for low-fat products, with snacks a key area of innovation. While brands dominate the category, 36% of the market is made up of supermarket own label ranges such as Sainsbury’s Be Good to Yourself and Tesco’s Healthy Living.
Yoghurt is the largest sector of the low-calorie market, representing 15%, with crispbreads showing the fastest value growth at 86%.
Sarah Morgan, marketing director at WeightWatchers cakes supplier Anthony Alan, acknowledges that awareness of the increase in obesity has benefited diet product suppliers, but adds: “The fact that people are buying into diet products to fit in with a healthier lifestyle also contributes to the success of diet products.”
This angle is key: although manufacturers are keen to position their products as part of a healthy diet, they’re often reluctant to push them as diet products. They prefer to have them merchandised with mainstream products so that there isn’t a stigma attached to shopping in the category.
But the lack of distinction means that it’s actually quite difficult to define the category.
While dieting traditionally has been perceived as a preoccupation for young women, Tesco says more customers are dieting for health reasons, including the over-45s and men.