define('DISALLOW_FILE_EDIT', true); define('DISALLOW_FILE_MODS', true); Almost half of Canadians cutting carbs » strategy

Almost half of Canadians cutting carbs

One in five has purchased a carb-reduced product - likely to increase as more products hit the market

Compared to the U.S., Canadians have always been pretty balanced in their food choices, but the latest Strategy/Decima poll shows we may be just as susceptible to media hype when it comes to the latest diet craze.

The number of Canucks who say they are actively limiting their carbohydrate intake has shot up from 8% to an astounding 43% in a matter of months, a meteoric rise that Peggy Richardson-McKee, SVP at Toronto-based Decima Research says is significant.

‘I was surprised it was that high. That’s a pretty specific group of people. Weight Watchers or any other plan out there isn’t specifically targeted to lowering intake of carb foods but are more targeted in general to eating a healthy, balanced diet.’

Breaking the numbers down by gender and age shows that females 35-plus are the largest group to be actively limiting carb intake, followed by males 35-plus.

A surprising find is that the province of Quebec, at 48.9%, reported the largest percentage of those limiting carbs.

Carolyn O’Brien, director of scientific & regulatory affairs for the Toronto-based Food and Consumer Products Manufacturers of Canada (FCPMC), says taste and food preferences vary by region but that Quebecers have always had more of a sweet tooth than the rest of the country. She has no explanation for the provincial skew.

But there are indications that the low-carb trend is gaining steam across the country. An Ipsos-Reid survey from December 2003 found that only 8% of Canadians were planning to reduce carbs in their diet, but that figure grew to 33% in January. The Strategy/Decima poll showing another jump to 43% was conducted in late February.

‘Certainly the numbers indicate that there is growing interest in Canada based on what we’ve seen with Ipsos-Reid and with [the Decima] data now,’ says O’Brien. ‘Whether that’s enough for manufacturers to decide to launch a product, it depends on the size of their market.

‘There’s a consideration too with the implementation of the Nutritional Facts information. [Manufacturers are] currently looking at their [product's] nutritional profile to see how to best position their products.’

(New nutritional labelling regulations, which must be implemented by Dec. 12, 2005, will force marketers to include a mandatory list of calories plus an expanded list of 13 core ingredients, including trans fat, carbohydrates and protein, on packaging.)

As well as asking respondents if they were actively limiting their carbs, the Strategy/Decima poll asked if they had purchased a product specifically promoted as a low-carb alternative. Just over 20% responded that they had.

That number could have been even higher, but Canadians currently have fewer reduced-carb products to choose from than in the U.S., where the popularity of the Atkins and South Beach diets has spawned a number of retailers devoted to selling only low-carb foods. But of course marketers have bigger numbers south of the border.

Michael Shekter, director of innovations for Maple Leaf Consumer Foods in Toronto, says Canada is a little slower at picking up on trends. American firms develop products faster because it’s an extremely competitive market – not to mention a much larger one.

Sometimes, he says, it’s not about developing new products for a trend but rather about promoting the benefits of existing brands.

He expects that most companies that respond will be those where high-carb foods are their bread and butter, so to speak, such as bakeries and QSRs like Subway, which has already introduced its Atkins-approved wrap.

‘Companies in the protein business, such as Maple Leaf, are either taking a wait-and-see attitude – let’s see if this thing is for real – or they’re just riding the wave. I saw figures that said Oscar Mayer bacon was up 17% in the U.S. last year. Was it because they did a huge low-carb promotion? No, it’s because people who are familiar with low-carb diets know that bacon is a source of protein.’

The question on the minds of most affected marketers is whether or not the low-carb craze will be a long-lived one. For his part, Shekter believes it is here to stay.

Decima conducted this poll on behalf of Strategy via its monthly telephone omnibus, for which data was collected from 2,000 consumers between Feb.12 and Feb. 22. Each month a random sample is generated and quotas for each region are disproportionately allocated. The data is weighted in tabulation to replicate actual population distribution by age and sex within regions, according to census data.

For more information, contact Decima Research at (416) 962-2013.