In the study carried out last week 15 percent of consumers claimed to be following a low carb diet. This marks the highest peak since ODC began tracking the trend in December 2003 and is a significant increase on last month's pre-holiday trough of 6 percent, which followed a gradual decline from 11 percent in August 2004.
In the last quarter of 2004, the media seized on the apparent diet drop-off to predict doom and gloom for the industry but Larry Shiman, vice president of research at ODC, was not convinced by the detractors.
"Back in December, we noted the possibility of the low-carb diet making a comeback in January," he said. "As the holidays approach, people often discontinue diets in the final months of the year, and then start them again as part of a New Year's resolution," he said.
Although Shiman concedes that some dieters' resolutions will be short-lived, he does not think the figures give the industry false hope. "If the low-carb phenomenon was truly a thing of the past, New Year's resolutions would have focused more on other diets, and we would not have seen a substantial New Year's bounce," he added.
Over the next few months Shiman will be keeping a close eye on diet behavior to try to ascertain how many people stick with the diet. But Scott Curtis, manager of marketing services at Carbolite Foods, thinks the best is yet to come.
"January sales tend to start heading in the right direction," he told NutraIngredients-USA.com, "however February, March and April will be the peak season for diet products."
Atkins Nutritionals was similarly optimistic, predicting that 11 or 12 percent of Americans will be controlling their carbs in the first quarter of 2005. Even though growth projections for this quarter do not mirror the double- and triple-digit growth rates for the same period in 2004, it said that such fluctuations indicate an emerging market seeking level ground as it matures, not the demise of the category.
As for the future, Atkins Matt Wiant, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said: "Research shows that, of those currently following a controlled-carb approach, 74 percent say that they will still be following it two years from now."
The US retail market for reduced carbohydrate packed foods was worth $2.7354 billion in 2004 according to Euromonitor, up from $1.3605 billion in 2003 and $578 million in 2002.
"The market segment for foods that are an alternative to the original sugar filled version will continue to become more readily accepted by the general public as awareness and exposure to great tasting alternatives become available," predicted Curtis.