Go With the Low

Healthy Returns

Philip Goglia, Ph.D., knew about low-carb long before the recent craze. An All-American wrestler for Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and former Mr. North America, Goglia points out, "To the bodybuilding, Olympic and professional athletic community, low-carb dieting was always a primary aspect of food programming." His passion for fitness and health propelled him to earn a doctorate in nutrition and start Performance Fitness Concepts (PFC), a nutrition and wellness firm in Santa Monica, California, in 1981. The company helps clients worldwide set up and manage their nutrition and exercise programs, and has helped celebs like Owen Wilson and Brendan Frasier shape up for physically challenging roles.

With low-carb attracting the mainstream, PFC estimates that between 74 and 84 percent of its clients are now on a low-carb diet. In fact, PFC's revenues will increase from $1.2 million in 2003 to a projected $2.5 million in 2004, due in part to its low-carb books, nutritional programs, support groups and other products. PFC's corporate wellness program--which aids companies in helping their employees reach health goals using a nutritionist and workouts if an onsite gym is available--has signed on its first corporation, with 7,000 employees. PFC also recently created an entertainment division that caters to busy agents and actors. The company's latest venture is a pharmaceutical-grade supplement line, sold through retail stores, that enhances the low-carb or no-carb food program.

Goglia, 44, maintains that, unlike most other nutrition firms, PFC's approach is metabolically based. The company assesses clients' blood chemistries and uses lipid profiles, which determine how much fat and protein an individual can manage based on readings like HDL, LDL, triglycerides, total cholesterol and glucose, and the ratios between them. Though multitudes start low-carb diets on the fly, the Atkins diet recommends that dieters obtain tests such as these; and those dieters serious about monitoring their health do. If clients' metabolic types don't fit with the low-carb diet, Goglia will find an appropriate food program to help them stay fit.

Valen feels that conscientious businesses like these will help reinforce the validity of the low-carb lifestyle. "If you have a bunch of fringe players that come in and promote the wrong things, or if the media picks up just that side of it," he says, "that could be detrimental to the long-term growth of the marketplace." Validity is a major issue in the industry, and Rotbart is spearheading a nonprofit association that will establish and adopt scientifically based nutritional, manufacturing, testing and marketing standards. Called the Low Carb Consumers League, it will offer a seal of approval for products. Efforts have been made to create other industry trade associations, but the industry has grown so quickly that it's playing catch-up. In fact, no resources specific to the low-carb industry are available for startups, other than LowCarbiz, but Rotbart is already working on an industry conference to be held May 5 and 6 in Washington, DC, and another in January 2005. (Visit www.lowcarbiz.com for more information.)

A Second Wind
You don't necessarily have to create a new product to take advantage of the low-carb craze. Sometimes you just have to market an existing product in a new way to point out its relevancy.

Consider Asher's Chocolates Inc. in Philadelphia. Since Chester Asher started the company in 1892, times have changed, including the types of chocolate we eat. Sugar-free chocolates were introduced to Asher's Chocolates line in the 1970s to offer diabetics a substitute for the forbidden real thing, but a few years ago, the company had noticed the public's interest in Atkins-style diets. Though they knew their sugar-free chocolate had only 0.7 to 1.5 net carbs, carb-conscious consumers didn't. After changing the packaging in late 2002 to include bright-yellow lettering specifying its low-carb grade, Asher's Chocolates experienced a triple-digit increase in sales.

"We may be 112 years old," quips Chester's great-grandson Jeff Asher, 41, vice president of sales and marketing, "but we're able to react in a timely manner. We weren't burdened [like major companies] with the same five-year, locked-in-stone plan." The fourth-generation, family-owned enterprise will produce up to 3.5 million pounds of the sugar-free, low-carb chocolate in 2004.

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This article was originally published in the May 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Go With the Low.

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