Healthy pizza part 2: the low-carb craze

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you have probably already heard about the newest trend that is tearing across the country like a tornado through a trailer park.

The Atkins diet has so profoundly effected the way people are eating and drinking that even the beer companies have jumped on board and started aiming their marketing towards these meat eating "carbavoids." Flour manufacturers are reporting drops in sales and the bad news is pizza, along with breads, potatoes and pastas, are the first things these Atkinites scratch off the list. But, there is good news in that there is a tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurs and those who see the handwriting on the wall.

What is This Atkins Diet?

First, let's look at this Atkins diet. The main premise of the Atkins diet is to drastically reduce carbohydrates. The idea is that when a person consumes a combination of fat and carbohydrates, it creates an insulin response from the carbs that causes the body to store fat. By drastically reducing the carbs, it causes the body to start burning fat and without the carbs, nothing is left to be stored as fat. The Atkins dieters are allowed all the meat and cheese they can eat, but forget the breads and such.

The Atkins diet has been around for many years, but wasn't given much credit as being a healthy diet because some thought it created heart disease. Newly published research is showing just the opposite is true. "Reports recently released have given credibility to the Atkins diet," says Linda Langdon, vice president of Low Carb Creations (www.getlowcarbcreations.com), which operates a low-carb restaurant in Vancouver, Wash. "There have been studies released by the Harvard 10-Year Nurses Study, Duke University and nearly every other university in the country has done research on this diet. They are reporting what Dr. Atkins said all along in that it is truly a healthy diet."

Some say it's not a fad, but the new order. Hugo Ralli said in a News-Sentinel article that his customers are sending the breadbaskets back and ordering bacon burgers and telling him to "hold the bun." Steak houses are cleaning up and reporting record sales. I guess this is the beginning of the "Holy Cow" era.
What to Do

Atkins dieters will order a hamburger and get rid of the top bun. Hey, pizza already comes without a top layer of carbs, but if you really want a low-carb pizza, you're out of luck, right? Wrong. The first thing we did was to put in a call to Tom "The Dough Doctor" Lehmann with the American Institute of Baking. He responded like the true professional he is and has provided us with a low-carb recipe, which can be found on page 40 in part three of this series. If you don't want to make your own, there are other solutions out there.

Low Carb Creations has just recently stepped up to the plate and started offering a frozen, pre-formed low carb dough, pre-cheesed pizzas and a low-carb dough mix. With all of the hype and buzz about this low-carb thing, I had to try this out myself. PMQ called Laura with Low Carb Creations and asked if they could send some samples for us to try out. A few days later, we received a cold-pack box and called a local pizzeria to see if we could commandeer their kitchen to do some tests. We made two of the pre-made cheese pizzas and two pizzas with various Atkins-friendly toppings, meaning lots of meats and cheese, and ran them through the conveyor ovens.

I first want to start by saying, as editor, I try to keep from pushing any specific company in our editorial. I think it damages our credibility, so I try to keep the mention of companies to a minimum unless it involves some informative aspect to the article. This company does. Now I admit, I am not on any diet. I only weigh about a buck sixty. Sitting behind this desk and eating pizza is starting to make me reconsider, but I wanted to try this low-carb crust to see how it compared to regular crust. Naturally, it doesn't have the full flavor of regular dough, but I will say, if I were on a diet, I wouldn't have any problems eating it, especially if pizza had been off of my list for any length of time.

Local Domino's Pizza franchisee Diane Barrentine tasted the product and said, "I definitely think this is a product that is ready to go to market. All that is needed is a marketing strategy to let people know about it." Two other testers who have been on the Atkins diet for a while said, "This is great. I haven't been able to eat anything but the toppings off of the pizza for so long, this is a blessing." Indeed. Here is your opportunity.

If you offer bread with the meal, why not cut some of your costs and rather than automatically bring bread, have a sever offer bread. Also, let customers know that wings are Atkins friendly, with the exception of those with honey in the seasoning, like honey barbecue.

Marketing

By offering a low-carb pizza special, you can be a god to those on the Atkins diet, but there is a stipulation. You have to commit yourself to spreading the word. Sure, you can have the only Atkins-friendly pizza in the town, but if no one knows, you probably won't sell any. You have to inform your area that you have a low-carb pizza. If you want these customers, repeat the last sentence again out loud.

Let's take it a step farther. What two foods go so well together they have become a cliche? Beer and pizza, but beer and pizza are off the Atkins list of allies. As mentioned in the first sentence, even the beer guys have gotten on board. The first to jump in was Michelob with their Michelob Ultra. This beer offers 2.6 grams of carbs per beer. It's already a hit with those refusing to give up beer, but in reality, Miller Lite has only 3.2 grams of carbs. Nonetheless, Atkinites are going for it. If you offer beer, why not have an Atkins Special with the low carb pizza and Michelob Ultra.

Another thing you can do is to mark the low-carb items on your menu as being so. This doesn't mean you have to reprint menus. You can do this easily by having small stickers made and applying them to your current menu. Let people know what is available as a low-carb alternative. You can do the same if you want to add the low-carb crust by simply having small stickers made with the name you give it and the cost.

For additional marketing information, be sure to read the article on Johnny's Pizza from the spring 2000 issue of PMQ. It can be found at https://www.pmq.com/johnnys_pizza_house.shtml. Also in that issue, John Correll wrote and article on marketing healthy pizza that is very useful. His story can be found at https://www.pmq.com/healthy_pizza.shtml.

Laura says if you do decide to offer a low-carb crust, it will cost you more, but don't try to make the price the same as other items. This is a specialty item and those on the Atkins diet are willing to pay more for more choices, like pizza, which they have eliminated. An example would be to list the low-carb crust and offer it for $3 extra. These people are used to paying $6 for a loaf of bread.

Don't Miss an Opportunity

Gallop Polls show that about 40 percent of the U.S. population (18 and older) have tried or are trying the Atkins diet. Atkins polls show 50 percent of consumers are attempting the diet. PMQ's own survey of pizzeria owners show that 51 percent of owners are interested in a low-carb recipe, which is the highest of all the topics we asked about. Another interesting note is that there are 18 million diabetics in the U.S. who are also low-carb eaters. Crain's New York Business says more than 25 million people across the country have either tried or are pursuing the Atkins diet. What does this tell you?

Steve Green has been on me for about a year now to do something on healthy pizzas. Personally, I always thought healthy pizza was an oxymoron – that is until about six months ago when I couldn't deny the obvious. People are going low-carb and this can cut into pizza sales. It's time to take notice and be proactive before every other pizzeria on the block beats you to the punch. Search the web, read some of the links in John Correll's article on page 32 and ask your customers. You may be amazed at how many potential customers you are missing or existing customers who are jumping ship to ride the wave of Dr. Atkins' diet.