UMBRELLA LOW-CARB LINE TO HIT STORES

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. -- A new low-carbohydrate packaged food line that has ties to Skippy, Lipton and other popular brands will be a welcome addition to the Center Store, retailers told SN."Carb Options" from Unilever Bestfoods North America (UBF-NA) here will contain an initial 18 stockkeeping units. Selections include lemon-flavored ice tea, Italian dressing, Asian teriyaki marinade, hickory barbecue

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. -- A new low-carbohydrate packaged food line that has ties to Skippy, Lipton and other popular brands will be a welcome addition to the Center Store, retailers told SN.

"Carb Options" from Unilever Bestfoods North America (UBF-NA) here will contain an initial 18 stockkeeping units. Selections include lemon-flavored ice tea, Italian dressing, Asian teriyaki marinade, hickory barbecue sauce, steak sauce, alfredo sauce, creamy peanut spread, chocolate chip brownie bar and creamy vanilla shake. The line is rolling out nationally this month.

Supervalu's retail banners have already begun placing orders for items in the line, according to Michael Witynski, vice president of national merchandising for the Minneapolis-based company.

"[Carb Options] provides us with an exceptional offering that enables Supervalu's retail banners to respond quickly to the intensifying consumer interest in, and desire for, low-carbohydrate products," Witynski said.

Items in the line contain 6 or fewer grams of net carbs per serving. That's a significant drop from the carbohydrate content in the company's mainstream products. For instance, Ragu Chunky Gardenstyle Sauce currently has 15 grams of net carbs per serving, vs. Carb Options sauce, which has 5 grams of net carbs per serving.

Product labels identify each brand's traditional UBF-NA counterpart, when one exists. For instance, labels read Carb Options Peanut Spread by Skippy, Carb Options Garden Style Sauce by Ragu, and Carb Options Lemon-Flavored Ice Tea by Lipton.

Although he had not heard of the line until told about it by an SN reporter, Warren Crills, grocery buyer, Stauffers of Kissel Hill, Lititz, Pa., said Carb Options will be at an advantage by having the connection to such well-known brands.

"People feel more confident about products that have brand-name recognition," he said. "It's something they can associate with."

Michael Seaboch, grocery, frozen, dairy buyer for B&R Foods, Lincoln, Neb., an 18-store retailer, agreed.

"These [UBF-NA] brands have been around for years, and consumers know them, trust them and identify with them," he said.

At a time when about 45% of the $9 billion in diet category sales are going to retail outlets other than supermarkets, Carb Options is a way to bring diet-food shoppers back to mainstream grocers and, specifically, dry grocery aisles, said John Rice, president and chief executive officer, UBF-NA, which, along with Skippy and Lipton, manufactures brands such as Hellmann's and Lawry's.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for the Center Store," Rice told SN.

Suggested retail prices for Carb Options range from $2.49 to $3.99, which is about 20% to 25% higher than existing UBF-NA products. An 18-ounce jar of Skippy peanut butter, for example, carries an SRP of $2.49; Carb Options peanut spread, $2.89.

When it comes to merchandising, UBF-NA said consumer research shows that the line should be segregated in a dedicated low-carb section in the center of the store.

"Giving the consumer a focal point is important," said Michael Polk, senior vice president of marketing and chief operating officer, UBF-NA.