Originally created 11/26/03

Artisan bakers fending off Atkins, other low-carb incursions



PITTSBURGH -- Man the baguettes and raise the scones.

Artisan bakeries appear to be fending off attacks on profits by a sector of the dining public sworn to protein-based diets, according to a recent study.

Nearly half of artisan bakeries said they are selling the same amount of bread this year as in 2002, and about a quarter said they are selling more, according to a survey by the Bread Bakers Guild of America, which is based in North Versailles, Pa.

Artisan bakeries typically are smaller, specialty shops that use less machinery and fewer preservatives. They represent 260 of the guild's 1,300 members.

A significant portion of the smaller bakeries surveyed, more than 31 percent, said low carbohydrate diets have affected business. Some bakers say, however, that the change is mostly in the type of bread being sold, with more customers looking for whole-grain or multigrain breads.

"We definitely noticed the effects of these diets and in such a short time that it was compelling and distressing," said Abe Faber, owner of Clear Flour Baker Inc. in Brookline, Mass. "It shifted quickly, though, in that people reading these diet books see that they don't say not to eat bread, but that part of their diet should include more whole grains. We've been here all along with that stuff."

More than 53 percent of artisan bakeries surveyed reported that sales of "fully whole grain breads and/or pastries" increased in 2003.

Dr. Robert C. Atkins' diet plan and other low-carb diets are at least partially responsible for a drop in bread consumption, experts say. The per capita consumption of flour has fallen from 146.3 pounds per year in 2000 to 138.9 pounds last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Faber says bread has gotten a bad rap and that the public has been misinformed by the media and companies seeking to profit from the low-carbohydrate craze.

"You don't need to go to extremes to be healthy," he said. "Americans' problems with obesity is related to caloric intake."

At Enrico's Biscotti, which sits in Pittsburgh's teeming Strip District of seafood and produce shops, sales have been slow only because of the economy, said owner Larry Lagatutta.

"You look up and down this street and everyone says the same thing - the economy is bad," he said. "Atkins, or whoever it is this week, has nothing to do with our sales."

More than 9 percent of survey respondents said the economy has led to a decrease in sales.

At Enrico's Biscotti, sales have been spiking as the holidays draw close.

"People smell what we make and that's about it," Lagatutta said. "I've seen the Atkins people and they cheat. Good for them."

On the Net:

Bread Bakers Guild: http://www.bbga.org