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Subway, the sandwich chain that brought the world the Jared Fogle diet, is about to emerge as the latest fast-food chain to embrace the Atkins diet.
Subway today will announce plans to begin selling two Atkins-Friendly Wraps at all 16,500 Subway stores nationwide starting Monday. The wraps are made from special wheat and soy grains that are high in fiber and protein, but low in carbohydrates.
Consumers, however, will pay a premium for them -- about 50 cents more than Subway's conventional, 6-inch subs.
Subway sandwich bread alone has 17 net carbs compared with 5 net carbs in the Atkins wrap.
Behind it all: a nation of heavy consumers who want to eat hearty but still lose weight. The popularity of the Atkins diet appears to be near its zenith -- though potentially threatened by new concerns about mad cow disease in the USA.
Nearly one in four Americans has at least tried the Atkins diet, which encourages consumption of meats, vegetables and some fruits but discourages carbohydrate-laden bread, pasta and cereals.
''Next, we'll have Slim-Fast shakes at Dairy Queen,'' jokes Janet Lowder, president of Restaurant Management Services, a consulting firm. ''Any restaurant that doesn't offer alternatives . . . isn't paying attention.''
Last week, Hardee's and Carl's Jr. announced new bunless burgers wrapped in lettuce to meet Atkins' dieters' needs.
For Subway, the deal is a strategic move to protect the Subway franchise of better-for-you fast food. Not only has the popularity of the low-fat, low-calorie Jared Fogle diet begun to fade, but same-store sales at Subway have dipped about 2% over the past year even as rivals such as McDonald's and Wendy's are enjoying double-digit sales gains.
For Atkins, the move is a major public relations coup as the company continues to reach out to strike licensing deals with some of the most familiar names in foods. A partnership with T.G.I. Friday's was announced earlier this month. And several others deals are said to be under negotiation.
Subway also has plans to introduce in April an entrée salad line with three Atkins-Friendly salad dressings.
''We're making the changes to stay on top of consumer trends,'' says Fred DeLuca, president and founder of Subway.
Subway approached Atkins with the proposal several months ago. Under the terms of the marketing partnership, Subway will pay Atkins an undisclosed fee based on total sales of the new products.
DeLuca says he thinks the Atkins tie-in could boost Subway sales by up to 10% over the next year.
Early ads for the new Atkins tie-in will not feature Fogle, who lost 245 pounds on a strict diet of Subway sandwiches and diet soda. But yet-to-be-created ads will feature the famous dieter, DeLuca says.
Executives at Atkins say the tie-in is a boon for Atkins dieters. ''We can now tell our customers that they can go out and get Atkins-approved meals at Subway,'' says Matthew Wiant, chief marketing officer at Atkins Nutritionals.
Not all nutritionists are big Atkins fans.
''It may be smart marketing,'' says Holly Piturro, a nutrition therapist from Denver, ''but I don't agree that it's OK to eat so many protein-excessive products.''
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