As the low-carb category matures, growth will increasingly rely on repeat sales.
And repeat sales may very well depend on taste.
"When a manufacturer takes one thing out, they have to put one thing in to fool your mouth. They are going to have to do something to provide you with a taste," said Leah McGrath, corporate dietitian for Ingles Markets, Asheville, N.C. "I think everybody's concern is if [consumers] buy it once, will they buy it again?"
The advent of ingredient alternatives like Splenda -- one of the leading sugar substitutes currently on the market -- has helped improve the taste quality of some items, sources said.
"Artificial sweeteners don't have the bad rap they had 25 years ago," noted Scott Van Winkle, a principal and natural foods specialist at the Boston-based Adams, Harkness & Hill investment bank. "It's not what it was 15 years ago when you went into a natural food store, and the stuff all tasted horrible. Generally, [diet food] tastes better today and food science is better today, but there are going to be some food categories that simply can't do it," he said.
In a rush to pacify dieting consumers, manufacturers are expected to unleash a tsunami of products throughout all categories in the next few months. Fortunately for grocers, dieting shoppers are not the only group that is expected to gravitate toward these items.
"What we're finding now is that the general consumer is looking to reduce the overall added sugar that they're taking in, and it could be because they are trying to follow a specific diet regimen that encourages removing certain refined sugars or starches from their diet -- or people are just saying, 'Let me look at my diet overall,"' said Monica Neufang, director of public relations for Fort Washington, Pa.-based, McNeil Nutritionals, the maker of Splenda.
McGrath from Ingles conceded there are some shoppers that will buy just about anything as long as it fits their plan, who say, "It's worth it just so I can have bread, even if it tastes terrible." Yet, Neufang believes more will be unwilling to sacrifice taste.
"People do not want to live their lives in the context of deprivation -- it's a sad way to live," she said.