The Atkins-led low-carb fad has led to a sea change in the diet foods market. Unilever claims that low-carb products already account for a massive 50 per cent the entire US slimming products market, a rapid expansion reflected in Slim-Fast's poor performance over the last year.
The immediate reaction was to launch a range of low-carb products under the Slim-Fast brand - five at the end of 2003 and a further 17 planned for this year - and while this has had a beneficial effect on sales, it has not been enough to offset the sharp decline already experienced by the brand and which contributed to a 2.1 per cent drop in sales growth in North America alone during the first quarter of the year.
Now Slim-Fast has gone one step further and launched a new range of products - Slim-Fast Optima - which it claimed represented the "biggest nutritional shift in Slim-Fast's 25-year history".
Somewhat worryingly for consumers of the original Slim-Fast, the new formulation contains 50 per cent less sugar than the original (which begs the question of how effective the product was with such a relatively high level of sugar), and comes with its own diet system designed to promote a balanced diet.
"The Slim-Fast Optima Diet arrives at a time when health experts are calling for healthier weight-loss solutions instead of trendy, extreme diets that, unlike Slim-Fast, do not provide the balanced nutrition required to promote short- and long-term, healthy weight loss," the company said, a less-than-subtle dig at the low-carb trend and somewhat surprising given its own embracing of the low-carb trend.
The new weight loss programme includes recipes offering a healthy balance of proteins, complex carbs and healthy fats that are in compliance with nutritional recommendations from leading health authorities such as the American Heart Association, American Dietetic Association, National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organisation.
Slim-Fast Optima does not mean the end of Slim-Fast's own low-carb range - the rollout of products will continue despite the apparent paradox of the company promoting a more balanced weight loss regime - a clear indication that Unilever is determined to cover all the bases.