Orange County, California-When Dr. Atkins died in April, he barely had time to enjoy how his once-shunned eating ideas have been embraced by at least 12 million people in the United States and how a new food industry has sprung up around the diet: grocery stores, food manufacturers and restaurants dedicated to low-carb foods.

"This is part of a larger trend where people are more interested in better-for-you products," said Michael Diegel, director of communications for the Grocery Manufacturers of America in Washington, DC. "It is among the fastest-growing categories we have in foods."

Sales of better-for-you products-which include low-carb foods-increased by $400 million to $5.9 billion in 2002, according to a study done by the Grocery Manufacturers.

Sales were down until 2001, Diegel said, when obesity awareness and attention to diets increased sales by $100 million to $5.5 billion.

Rick Schott's own weight loss prompted him to leave his cell-phone retail business and open Castus Low Carb Superstores in Northern California in 1999. Additional stores will be franchises, Schott said, who plans to open 200 stores by the end of next year. -Orange County Register