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Atkins 'diet bubble' bursts in Britain

London, March 17: It was hailed as the most revolutionary and successful diet of its kind, endorsed by celebrities and tried by millions of people.

But yesterday, the Atkins diet bubble appeared to have burst. Following disappointing sales and fierce competition from rival diets, the America-based Atkins Corporation announced that it was pulling the plug on its ailing British subsidiary.

Administrators are today expected to be called in to the Slough headquarters of Atkins Nutritionals UK ' the makers of Atkins low-carbohydrate snacks and milkshakes. Although the company insists that its brand is as strong as ever, the move is a blow to the once all-conquering regime.

Invented by Robert Atkins, an American doctor, in the early 1970s and revived in the 1990s, the diet challenged conventional medical wisdom. Followers were urged to replace carbohydrates ' such as flour, sugar, rice and potato ' with foods high in protein and fat.

Atkins claimed that carbohydrates triggered a rise in blood sugar levels and stimulated hunger. If a diet was high in protein and fat, the body would start to consume its own fat in a process known as ketosis, he argued.

The diet was particularly popular among men and many of its followers reported impressive results. But critics claimed that it was little more than a way of cutting down calories ' and that it could have long-term health implications, including heart disease and kidney problems.

Exploiting the success of its bestsellers, Atkins Nutritionals UK launched a range of branded low-carb foods in 2003 with a multi-million-pound marketing campaign.

However, sales were never as good as expected.

Companies such as Nestl' rushed out cheap, low-carbohydrate alternatives to their brands. The growth in popularity of other diets ' such as the low GI regime ' also hit the sales of Atkins products.

Tamara Richardson, the senior vice-president of Atkins Nutritionals, said that the UK subsidiary had been making a loss and that administrators were expected to be appointed today. 'The whole slimming market is down year on year and we have found more competition than we were expecting,' she said.

Richardson said it was possible that the company would be sold as a going concern.

Signs that the Atkins brand was weakening emerged last year in a report from Mintel, the market analysts.

Although 13 per cent of people said they had tried a low-carbohydrate regime, fewer than 3 per cent ' or 1.35 million people ' were actually on the diet, Mintel found.

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