Atkins’ Diet demands making local inroads

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The Atkins’ diet buzz word-carbohydrates-is teeming in the air and has become commonplace at work and in local stores.

Area dieters, who have jumped on the low-carbohydrate bandwagon, are influencing the products carried in grocery stores and offered in restaurants. The Atkins’ enthusiasts have arrived in great numbers.

“I’m amazed at how many people are doing it,” said Linden Thiessen with Olde Towne Restaurant and Bakery on North Main Street.

“I started seeing this about a year ago. People would order just a meat entree and just the vegetables with it. I didn’t know what this was, but now, it’s so prevalent. Everybody’s doing it.”

By the end of January, packages of low-carb tortillas were finally stacked on the shelves of Vogt’s HomeTown Market.

“They were available the first of January,” said Todd Vogt referring to the supplier’s inventory list. “But there was such a demand that the supplies were low, and we couldn’t get them on the shelves until now.”

Physician Robert Atkins published his first diet book about 35 years ago. “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution” introduced the concept of a controlled-carbohydrate lifestyle of eating. Sales of the book exceeded 10 million copies, and the book was followed by updated versions and carbohydrate-counting books.

Carbohydrates are, in simplest form, sugars and starches.

The Atkins’ diet list consists of eating high protein and fat in the form of meat, chicken, pork, fish and oils. In phase one of the diet, sugar, white flour, rice, pasta and potatoes are excluded from the dieter’s menu.

The four phases of the Atkins’ approach to dieting include induction, on-going weight loss, pre-maintenance and lifetime maintenance. The amount of carbohydrates allowable on the diet varies with each phase.

About a year ago, staff at Olde Towne noticed some customers weren’t eating the breads and rolls, or they would order a sandwich without the bun.

As the new year began, Thiessen was reviewing his menu and looking for ways to accommodate the dietary needs of his Atkins’ customers.

“We’ve started fixing a marinated chicken breast with the salad bar,” Thiessen said. “That’s taken off big time, there’s a lot of people eating that.”

A lemon-marinated boneless chicken breast is cooked on the flat grill. Served without bread or starches, such as potatoes, rice or pasta, the entree is accompanied by a large-portion salad bar. The cost is $6.50.

“What started this is people kept ordering the West Coast Chicken (sandwich) without the bun and went to the salad bar,” Thiessen said.

Adapting the original recipe by eliminating the condiments and the bread, Thiessen discovered an instant success. And he’s now offering the condiments, such as cheese, jalapenos and green onions, on the salad bar for all customers looking for a healthy meal.

“It’s a special I’m running for awhile,” Thiessen said. “People are really going for it. We’ve sold a lot of them. I’ve probably doubled to tripled my sales of the 5 ounce chicken breast just like that-just overnight.”

After recently hearing that a form of artificial sweetener called Splenda is recommended on the Atkins’ diet, Thiessen said he’s offering that in addition to his other sweeteners. By the end of January, he was investigating the feasibility of an Atkins’ friendly dessert menu with Splenda substituted for sugar.

Sales of his zwiebacks have dropped, and Thiessen said the reason could possibly be attributed to the Atkins’ diet. But his whole-wheat-bread sales are steady.

In addition to the marinated chicken, Atkins’ dieters at Olde Towne can order entrees, such as the ground-beef steak or Teriyaki chicken, with a double order of vegetables.

“If somebody’s on the Atkins’ diet, if they have a question, I’d be glad to talk to them if they call ahead of time,” Thiessen said.

A sign on the window of the local Subway reads as follows: “Counting carbs? Try our new wraps. Atkins’ friendly.”

Toward the end of 2003, Subway introduced the breadless sandwich.

“We give you foot-long quantities of veggies and meat, whatever sandwich you want, in a Hogie container,” said manager Cindy Maynard. “You can add cheese if you want, but there’s no bread.”

But by the beginning of 2004, the Atkins’-Friendly Wrap was available.

“As soon as they started advertising on TV, with the Atkins’ wrap, it really hit hard,” Maynard said about local sales of the concoction. “Sales skyrocketed in all the Subways, and it brought in all the Atkins’ people.”

The Atkins’ chicken-bacon-ranch wrap or the turkey-and-bacon melt come in a tortilla wrap and are topped with green peppers, onions and three black olives.

The tortilla is made with wheat, sesame-seed and soy flour and contains five carbohydrates. In comparison, the deli roll at Subway has 29 carbohydrates, the Italian herb has 37, and the honey oat has 44.

Customers can order any 6-inch-sub combination with the wrap substituted for the sandwich bread.

“It’s expensive,” Maynard said about the cost of the wrap combinations. “It’s high because the wraps are so expensive to make.”

Subway sells from 25 to 45 wraps a day and offers a nutritional guide to help Atkins’ dieters count the carbohydrates.

“We need to let the customers know that if they change the format on the wrap, they’re changing carbs,” Maynard said. “And that’s the big thing if you’re counting carbs, that’s important.”

For now, strict Atkins’ dieters at Subway have no choice but to drink water and forgo the chips and cookies. But in the future, Maynard said they may offer an Atkins’ friendly soft drink and pork rinds.

Sales of pork rinds and Diet Rite soft drinks have increased locally, said Dale Franz at Dale’s Supermarket Inc.

Diet-Rite contains the Splenda sweetener that is approved for Atkins’ dieters, and pork rinds are also appropriate.

“So those items we’ve had requests for and we carry all the time now,” Franz said. “There have been some requests for some different things, but there hasn’t been that much interest in” Atkins’ friendly products at the grocery store.

The grocery warehouse representatives have been encouraging Franz to stock Atkins’ products but, until he gets enough requests, he doesn’t plan to fill the shelves with them.

“The prices, I looked at stuff and my goodness, they’re outrageously high,” Franz said. “I haven’t had that tremendous of a response for it yet. But once the people start pushing on it more and more, then I guess we’ll need to bring more of those items in.”

As Valentine’s Day approaches, Karleen Vogt at Vogt’s HomeTown Market noticed a marked increase in the sales of Russell Stover Atkins’ friendly candy.

“We can’t keep them in the store,” she said. “They just go out really fast. People are just really into them. Anything low carb, they’re asking about.”

Before moving to the new location, Vogt’s began carrying some Atkins’ brand products in the fall.

“And now, everybody’s coming out with low-carb stuff,” Todd Vogt said. “We were at the food show, and that’s what everybody’s selling is low-carb stuff.”

As January ended, Atkins’ dieters could purchase items such as pork rinds, Diet Rite sodas, Mama Lupe’s Fresh Tortillas, Splenda, Atkins’ Sugar Free Syrup, Atkins’ Quick Cuisine Pancake and Waffle Mix, Sara Lee low-carb bread, Atkins’ friendly shakes, candy bars and power bars.

Vogt said he received two extensive lists from area customers requesting additional Atkins’ products.

In response to those requests, Vogt said customers shopping at the grocery store this month will find the addition of such items as Atkins’ shakes, barbecue sauce, dressings, and quick-cuisine muffin and cookie mixes.

Sales of such products as white flour or junk food have not noticeably decreased, Vogt said. But the sale of eggs has remained steady, in spite of the fact that egg prices have increased.

“If something like the price of eggs goes up, (customers) usually quit buying it,” Vogt said. “So some of that Atkins’ (trend) has helped that.”

Sweethearts preparing for the 14th will find Russell Stover Atkins’ products at Vogt’s to satisfy their sweet tooth while on a diet.

“The most popular one has been the Russell Stover low-carb toffee squares,” Karleen said. “It’s amazing how much is available for Atkins’ dieters.”

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