Low-Carb Craze Rocks the Food Chan

updated 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

Tom Ward
Candy company executive finds low-carb sweets are a way to riches

After Ward started an Atkins-like diet and stopped eating sweets a few years ago, he lost 25 lbs. But Ward—president of Russell Stover Candies, the nation's top seller of boxed chocolates—missed all those truffles and caramels he'd nibble on in his Kansas City office. The solution? "We came out with low-carb chocolates," he says. "The response has been fabulous."

Within months of the line's launch in April 2003, the healthier chocolates (some are just .03 net carbs apiece) became "far and away our fastest-growing category," says Ward, 45. And the boss gets to sample as many toffee squares as he likes all day long. After all, it's his professional duty. Still, he doesn't advise pigging out. "Excess," he says, "is not a good idea."

The Petruntis
Fed up with dreary diet fare, they hit it big with an all-low-carb store

Nearly 100 lbs. overweight after giving birth in 2001, Michele Petrunti went the low-carb route. It worked—until she got bored with the menu. "I'd hear about new low-carb products," she says, "but they were always hard to find." So she and husband Albert, 32, gambled their life savings on Ingen Health, their all-low-carb market in Torrington, Conn. One of the East Coast's first such markets, "it did double the business we hoped for," says Albert, who stocks cheesecake and taco shells among his 1,500 items. Now they have a second market in nearby Avon, as well as their own line of low-carb foods. "Helping people be healthy," says Michele, "is just so rewarding."

Squire Smith
Florida Orange growers like Smith have soured on the low-carb craze

Pasta? Good riddance. Bread? Take it away. But oranges? Virtuous vessels of vitamin C? High in carbs, they have indeed taken a hit. According to a 2003 survey commissioned by the Florida Department of Citrus, 26% of those queried had lowered their orange juice consumption; 35% of those did so because of a diet. And with orange juice sales down 5%—or 44 million gallons—over the last three years, orange growers are feeling squeezed. "We're generally selling oranges below the cost of production," says Squire Smith, 57, an orange farmer and president of Florida Citrus Mutual, which represents more than 90% of the state's growers. "You can only do that for so long before running out of money." To fight back, growers are launching a major pro-orange ad campaign in April. They're also trusting dieters are fickle. "We'd like to think we'll get through this," says Smith. "Most diets are fads, anyway."

Alex Tresniowski. Hope Hamashige in Torrington, Sandra Marquez in Los Angeles, Kristin Harmel in Orlando and Lauren Comander in Chicago

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