Atkins’ Weight Loss Makeover

Atkins, the low carb diet that peaked in popularity in the early half of this decade, is updating its image with a new campaign urging consumers to think beyond the diet’s “bacon, eggs and cheese” stereotype.

The back-to-school push, via LeeReedy, Denver, which broke earlier this month, plays up the variety of meals-as opposed to individual foods-dieters can eat under the program, including ham and Swiss cheese frittata for breakfast, a luncheon special of French bistro salad with shrimp and grilled turkey cutlets with thyme for dinner. Actress Courtney Thorne-Smith, from the TV sitcom According to Jim, continues to serve as spokesperson. (She also appeared in January weight loss ads for Atkins this year.)

The inclusion of such meals is intended to “break through that myth” of Atkins as a high protein-only diet, said Atkins Nutritionals marketing vp Jennifer McGhee.

This isn’t the first time Atkins has moved towards a more holistic eating approach. Earlier this year, the weight loss brand ran ads touting its “Sweet. Sexy. Science” tagline. The phrase was meant to convey the fact that participants could eat a more “flexible” diet consisting of “good fats, lean protein [and] vegetables” among others, and the abundance of nutrition bars and shakes available to both men and women.

In contrast, Atkins’ back-to-school campaign last year emphasized the “scientific proof” behind the program, McGhee said. Ads now running also carry the New England Journal of Medicine’s claim that the diet provides 50 percent greater weight loss and improved cholesterol versus a low-fat diet, but in smaller print, towards the bottom.

“We’re hoping to convince people that Atkins meals are normal and you can have them with your family, at work, and [even in] a restaurant,” McGhee said.

Nutritionist Robert Atkins first developed and popularized the low-carb diet with the release of the book Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution in 1972. Though eclipsed by an emphasis on low fat diets through the 1980s and 1990s, the Atkins diet made a comeback in 2003, but by mid-2004, the trend appeared to start to fade and food marketers, who had rushed low-carb products onto store shelves, began withdrawing them. In 2005, two years after Atkins’ death, parent company Atkins Nutritionals filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, though it re-emerged one year later.

Currently, Atkins vies with other popular diets including South Beach, which substitutes “bad carbs” and “bad fats” with “good carbs” and “good fats.” Meanwhile, weight loss brands like Unilever’s Slim-Fast and Kraft’s South Beach Living brand have begun to popularize the “satiety” trend by promising foods that help kick hunger or keep the consumer feeling full for four hours, in Unilever’s case.

Tanya Zuckerbrot, nutritionist and author of The F-Factor Diet, said the change is needed. “Low carb feels very passé. Older [consumers] lived through it and they know the brand’s negative associations,” she said, adding that a balanced, nutritional appeal will appeal to younger dieters at the same time. “It’s a world-respected name in the industry, as far as [dieting] goes,…and now they’re giving it a younger, fresher and healthier image,” she said.

Separately, Atkins is also running ads addressing the hidden sugars in everyday staples such as breakfast bars, bran muffins and orange juice. The ads purport to help consumers lose 15 pounds in the first two weeks via a combination of “smart choices and Atkins bars and shakes.”

“At the new Atkins, we can teach you how to live a low-sugar lifestyle easily and deliciously, enjoying the best foods on earth,” the ad says.