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Interesting piece in Wharton’s Knowledge about the pitfalls and advantages of so-called “fad marketing,” which attempts to exploit short-term trends that get a lot of media attention. Think Pet Rocks. Beanie Babies. And, in the food business, the Atkins diet.

According to the article, the bankruptcy filing earlier this year by Atkins Nutritionals – the for-profit commercial arm of the low-carb-driven empire created by the late Dr. Robert Atkins – suggests the potential downside of fad marketing, since fads tend to fly high and crash fast.

In fact, Knowledge reports, there are four different kinds of fads:

• A typical or "true" fad that “skyrockets in popularity but fades in less than 18 months.”

• “A cyclical fad which reappears every six or seven years, although with diminished popularity.”

• “A generational fad that surfaces approximately every 15 years.”

• “A fad-to-franchise product which exhibits a continued, wave-like pattern after its initial surge.”

According to the research done by Knowledge, diets in general seem to fit the latter pattern, and there is no reason to expect that the Atkins low-carb diet approach will be any different – while interest in cutting carbs as a way of losing weight certainly has waned, Americans tend to have a short attention span…eventually the next diet will lose steam, as will the one after that and the one after that.

It is possible that the Atkins diet, especially because it has a book tied into the concept that is unlikely to go out of print, will remain on radar screens and regain at least some semblance of its earlier popularity at a point in the future; at the very least, consumer consciousness about empty carbohydrates has been raised. Some analysts suggest that the Atkins diet had its own pitfalls from a marketing perspective: when people fell off the wagon or cheated, they tended to gain weight right back, which they found frustrating.

The bankruptcy of Atkins Nutritionals, the article argues, actually may have less to do with the fickle attitudes of consumers and more to do with the over-saturation of the marketplace with low-carb products produced by virtually every major CPG company.
KC's View:
One of the things that the article says that we agree with completely is the fact that the demise of the low-carb trend and the bankruptcy of Atkins Nutritionals was predictable. But a lot of this can be blamed on the American public, which is fickle at best, constantly demanding immediate gratification and magic pills to solve all their problems. No wonder that retailers and manufacturers look for short-term advantages from trying to satisfy those cravings.

Especially in the area of food, though, we think that the long-term winners in the food industry will be those who offer consumers a more intelligent approach to diet, nutrition and lifestyle. That doesn’t mean ignoring the short-term fads and trends, but rather just keeping the eye on the prize. In this, we tend to think of how Ukrop’s comes to market; CEO/president Bobby Ukrop is fond of saying that the company wants both its customers and employees to “live younger, longer” and that translates into an offering that has legs.