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Dieters' Taboo Foods Not So Bad, Ads Claim

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NEW YORK -- Marketers are hoping a good-for-you ad spin can help increase sales of food that might otherwise be seen as diet no-no's.

Amid concerns about an ever-heavier population and demand for healthier foods from consumers counting calories, carbohydrates and cholesterol, marketers are recrafting pitches.

KFC is promoting low-carb and high-protein numbers for its fried chicken in ads that began last week. Miller Lite is touting the low-carb count for its beer.

Candymaker Mars is introducing CocoaVia, chocolate products that claim to be able to lower cholesterol levels 10%.

This kind of twist can work for foods consumers crave.

''Claims that make it more believable that beer, fried chicken and chocolate are healthy are the kinds of things most people will be drawn to,'' says Dick Emerson, chief operating officer for Toth Brand Imaging in Concord, Mass. ''If it were Brussels sprouts, lima beans and liver promoted as better-for-you, I'm not sure marketers would expect to see (sales of) those products go through the roof.''

But nutritionists see some of the ads as misleading because they tout one factor, such as low carbs -- currently an obsession for millions of dieters on plans such as Atkins -- and play down less desirable attributes such as calories or fat.

''It's a total distortion of reality,'' says Lisa Young, a nutrition professor at New York University. ''They are taking some scientific fact and blowing it out of proportion. ''

Looking for healthier sales:

* KFC. Beneath a layer of Original Recipe coating there is protein. KFC plays up that fact in new ads by Foote Cone & Belding.

In one ad, a friend asks his pal Jack what he's been doing to look so good. His response: ''Eatin' chicken.'' Across the screen flashes ''11 grams of carbs and 40 grams of protein.''

''Part of the strategy is to set the record straight,'' says KFC spokeswoman Bonnie Warschauer. ''Consumers shouldn't feel guilty about eating fried chicken. They will be surprised to learn they can enjoy fried chicken as part of a healthy and balanced diet.''

* Miller Lite. Seeing the success Anheuser-Busch has had promoting new Michelob Ultra as low in carbs (2.6 g per 12 oz.), Miller Lite (3.2 g) is promoting its low-carb content against light beer rivals.

A batch of simple ads show a Miller Lite being poured into a glass as the screen shows a comparison -- 1/2 the carbs of Bud Light (6.6 g) and 1/3 fewer than Coors Light (5 g). New ads coming also will mention taste, while still making the low-carb point.

''With Miller Lite having half the carbs of the main competitor, it's an important differentiator,'' says Bob Mikulay, executive vice president, marketing.

* Mars. Ads in current issues of Prevention, Cooking Light and Smithsonian magazines introduce Mars' CocoaVia, chocolate snacks it claims can help cut cholesterol levels by up to 10% when eaten daily. Products -- which include chocolate treats and bars of rice, oats and soy covered with chocolate -- are currently available by direct sales only.

Mars says it uses a processing method for CocoaVia that helps the chocolate retain more of the compounds called flavanols that occur naturally in cocoa plants and are believed to help maintain blood flow and lower levels of LDLs -- ''bad'' cholesterol.

''Heart disease is one of the top killers in America, and people have removed chocolate from their diet,'' says Jeffrey Moran, a spokesman for Mars.

''We're looking at the opportunity to see if they would put it back in their diet, because it does have health benefits.''

This is not Mars' first attempt promoting ''healthier'' chocolate treats.

Two years ago, the company began promoting the fact that its 3 Musketeers has 45% less fat than other leading candy bars.

Trend watcher Marian Salzman, chief strategy officer, Euro RSCG, sees another motive in putting a good-for-you spin on such products: ''They're asking people to make peace with their vices.''

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© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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