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The Wall Street Journal reports that Unilever is bringing out 18 new low-carb products that offer alternatives to traditional its product offerings such as Skippy peanut butter, Lawry's steak sauce, Ragu spaghetti sauces, and Wishbone salad dressings. Unilever reportedly estimates that the 18 products could generate as much as $1 billion in sales in 2005.

Each product in the line, dubbed "Carb Options," will have six grams or less of "net carbs." However, "low carb" won't be explicitly stated on labels, in part because the phrase isn't sanctioned by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"Unilever's move," the WSJ writes, "is a measure of how far into the mainstream the hot low-carb diet trend has moved." However, this remains something of a gamble for Unilever, "which has struggled over the past year to meet quarterly sales growth targets. Unilever is well aware of the dangers of chasing diet fads. One of its biggest brands, Slim-Fast shakes and snacks, has lost luster as dieters have turned away from meal-replacement products in favor of low-carb dieting. By linking some of its oldest trademarks to the latest trend in weight-loss, Unilever risks diluting their brand image."
KC's View:
We think this is a smart move by Unilever, and that in the current environment creating such line extensions is a way of improving, not diluting, brand images. Frankly, Atkins dieters generally are thrilled to find low-carb versions of old favorites.

That's certainly been the thinking over at Frito-Lay, which is launching low-carb versions of its Doritos and Tostitos tortilla chips containing 60 percent fewer carbs than the regular varieties.