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Food makers betting Americans like fat

May 8, 2000

CHICAGO (AP) - Craving some fat? Sara Lee Corp. is betting you'll like its new Calzone Creations microwavable sandwiches with as much as 12 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat, 60% of the recommended daily intake for an average person.

If you get hungry before dinner, there's now a cheesecake snack bar that Kraft Foods says will make the confection an ''everyday indulgence.''

With Americans worrying less about fat and calories these days, food makers are rolling out a raft of fat-laden, calorie-packed new products at the supermarket industry's annual trade show.

Among the other new goodies: Oscar Meyer Lunchables sweet rolls that the kids can carry to school for recess and single-serving packs of dip from Dean Foods that people can take to the office to make those carrots and other veggies go down easier. And there are new versions of Nestle's Power Bar, a staple of long-distance runners, that are essentially vitamin-fortified candy bars, with up to eight times as much saturated fat as the original.

''I don't watch my fat intake at all,'' said Glen Murphy of Mississauga, Ontario, as he sampled one of the Calzone Creations, a croissant-like pocket stuffed with meat, cheese and vegetables. ''I like what I buy and I eat it and enjoy it.''

Industry research indicates consumer concern about fat has been falling in recent years, even as food makers have struggled to market low-fat products.

Among supermarket shoppers who say they are very concerned about nutrition, just 46% of consumers say they are worried about the fat content. That's down from 60% in 1996, according to a poll sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute, the supermarket industry trade group. Interest in sodium content and cholesterol levels also is down.

Consumers have been ''deluged with conflicting, sometimes misleading claims'' about nutrition and diet and they've reacted by ''tuning out,'' said Michael Sansolo, the FMI's senior vice president.

Meanwhile, the number of Americans who are considered obese has soared from about one in eight in 1991 to one in five by last year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

''There is so much food out there ... and most of it is not the healthiest,'' said Margo Wootan, a nutrition expert with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group that has criticized Kraft's new cheesecake bars as ''food porn.''

But most people still care about good nutrition, she said. ''They just find it increasingly difficult to eat better,'' Wootan said.
The number of new food products bearing low-fat or low-calorie claims more than doubled from 1993 to 1996 - from 847 to 2,076 - but then dropped by half two years later, according to New Product News, a publication that tracks the industry.

Sara Lee tested various versions of its Calzone sandwiches with chefs and found that the less fat the products had the less they were liked. Companies also are finding, they say, that the same consumers who will buy products like the Kraft's cheesecake bars are often the same ones who are driving the boom in soy burgers and other health foods.

''Most people now are taking an open-minded approach to managing their whole diet,'' Kraft spokeswoman Nancy Daigler said.
Leah Brown, a food show worker from Chicago, sampled one of the cheesecake bars at the Kraft exhibit and pronounced it ''very good and I don't like cheesecake.''

It's ''not the real New York cheese cake, but it's a fairly decent copy,'' said Stuart Ladin, a supermarket equipment supplier from Winnetka, Ill.

Dean Foods, the nation's second-largest dairy processor, is marketing its new Dips-For-One as a way to eat healthier. The government's proposed new Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests such dips as one way for consumers to increase their vegetable intake.

''Since vegetables, such as carrots and celery now come individually packaged for convenience, it was only logical for Dean's to provide a portable dip snack,'' company spokesman Phil Dolci said.

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