Unilever is to "reposition" Slimfast, its troubled diet foods business, emphasising its healthy status in an attempt to fight back against the success of the Atkins diet.
Shares in the Persil-to-Vaseline giant fell 10 per cent in June when it admitted that sales at Slimfast, which it bought in 2000 for $2.3bn (£1.45bn), had slipped. Unilever blamed the success of Atkins, a diet that involves eating protein but not carbohydrates and has been endorsed by celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston.
However, Slimfast will launch new products, including a soup and a snack, in the next few weeks and will start a marketing campaign to emphasise how much more healthy it is than Atkins.
Antony Burgmans, Unilever's co-chairman, is to visit Slimfast's headquarters in Florida next month to oversee the business's fightback. "We have an innovative programme planned with new products," he said.
Among the weapons Slimfast is likely to deploy will be health experts praising its advantages over the Atkins diet. There has already been a lot of publicity about the potential ill-effects of cutting out carbohydrates, but Slimfast will also push its view that weight loss is more sustainable using its gradual, 10-week slimming programme rather than losing 4kg in two weeks under Atkins.
"You don't have to be a scientist to see this [rapid weight loss] is not sustainable," said Mr Burgmans, who pointed out that Slimfast conducted rigorous medical tests a few years ago, before it was bought by Unilever, to prove its health benefits.
Slimfast may also look for celebrity endorsements. "The slimming market is somewhat susceptible to fashion," he said.
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