The Scottish company Simmers of Edinburgh has been manufacturing oatcakes, traditional Scottish cracker-like products, for more than 50 years. It is only in the past 12-18 months, however, that demand has soared.
It is the growing popularity of the Glycaemic Index diet (GI), a regime that promotes foods with a slow release of sugar, which has boosted this new demand for oatcakes, according to Mark Laing, the company's managing director.
GI dieters have boosted sales 15 per cent this year, pushing Simmer's turnover up to £10m (€14.5m).
The firm is currently working longer hours at its existing capacity in order to cope with demand. A £5m (€7.3m) factory expansion is set to ease the strain on output.
"We have no choice but to increase our capacity to cope with the increased demand. This investment is a big step for our company, but we are going into it with considerable confidence," Laing told BakeryAndSnacks.com.
Originally developed over 20 years ago to help diabetics manage their condition, the glycaemic index or GI ranks foods based on their effect on blood glucose levels.
Foods with a high GI (70 and above) are digested and metabolised rapidly, triggering large fluctuations of blood glucose levels and insulin demand, while low- or medium-GI foods (40-69) are digested and absorbed more slowly, giving a slower and sustained release of energy and contributing to longer-lasting feelings of satiety.
Oats have a naturally low GI.
As the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets wanes, and the obesity epidemic grows, science is emerging showing that low-GI foods can help control weight.
The result is a wider cross-section of consumers selecting foods based on the GI index.
Simmers says it has also increased the appeal of its most popular product over the years by simplifying the recipe, changing the packaging to include more information on health benefits and improving the product's mouthfeel.
"Our sales increase is part of a continuing trend," added Laing, who hopes to see similar results for oatcakes next year. "It's simply a product whose time has come."
The Scottish firm, which claims to hold a 60 per cent share of the niche market for oatcakes in the UK, mainly supplies domestic supermarket chains, such as Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury.
But it is also looking to double its exports to countries such as the US, Canada and Australia. Foreign sales currently account for less than 1 per cent of its turnover.
Work on the new factory, which will exclusively manufacture oatcakes, is due to begin in autumn and should be completed by July 2005.