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Bally on Board with Low-fat Snacks for Kids

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CHICAGO - With healthy snacks all the rage, it was only a matter of time before a health fitness company muscled its way onto the bandwagon.

Chicago-based Bally Total Fitness this month is rolling out a line of Bally Snack Right Bites, touting it as a low-fat, low-calorie food, and aiming the products right at kids just before Halloween.

Bally is introducing its new line while obesity concerns continue to be the leading topic of discussion in the boardrooms of a number of food companies, from fast-food giants like McDonald's to traditional firms like Kraft Foods.

America's food industry has come under fire from health groups over everything from portion sizes to ingredients in their products, and the threat of lawsuits weighs heavily on the companies that bring products to market.

Last summer, Kraft said it would put a cap on the portion size of single-serve packages, and it is implementing plans to "improve" existing products and provide alternative choices. The company also said it was scrapping all in-school marketing.

McDonald's recently launched its Go Active Happy Meal for adults, which offers a healthier alternative to its main menu.

With nutrition issues suddenly thrust into the national dialogue, companies like Bally are trying hard not to miss a business opportunity.

Bally CEO Paul Toback said that Bally's plans for snacks have been on the drawing board for two years, and that it is working to broaden the distribution of the candy outside its 420 clubs in the United States.

The fitness chain wouldn't say who is going to manufacture and package the bars for Bally. The products initially will be available in a variety bag containing four flavors: chocolate mint, oatmeal cookie, yogurt-covered berry and chocolate peanut butter.


Harold Burson, the 82-year-old founder of public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, estimates that he's been to Chicago more than 500 times since he founded his firm in New York 50 years ago.

He was in town again Tuesday for the Chicago celebration of the firm's founding, which included a private dinner with friends, clients and even some foes - Golin/Harris founder Al Golin among them - at Biggs restaurant.

The agency was in a celebratory mood Tuesday, even as it muddles through yet another dreadful year in the public relations industry. Burson says the current economic woes that plague the industry are expected to end, but there has been overgrowth that eventually will lead to a shakeout of agencies around the world.

"The fact of the matter is that Singapore can't handle six or seven large public relations firms, and there are many Singapores out there," Burson said.

Burson-Marsteller was bought by Young & Rubicam in 1979. Y&R later was bought by WPP Group.

Burson, who said the agency retains some long-standing relationships, such as one with Coca-Cola Co., says what has astounded him most is the changing nature of client relationships.

"Agencies are not as close to clients as they used to be," he said. "And no longer are all the decisions being made at the top. That's been a big change."

Burson is among a few "founding fathers" still active in the business, including Golin and Edelman chief Dan Edelman, who is based in Chicago.


(c) 2003, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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