Protein Power: 5 Questions with Atkins CMO Colette Heimowitz



Atkins Nutritionals has been benefiting from Americans’ flight from carbohydrates for many years now, starting with the original Atkins Diet and more recently with the nation’s protein craze, by offering its protein bars, shakes and frozen meals as the optimal way to address dietary concerns.

The brand’s owner, private-equity company Roark Capital Management, lately considered an IPO that would value Atkins at about $1 billion, reports said, after abandoning the idea of trying to sell the company.

Out in the field, Atkins marketers and product developers keep finding new ways to broaden their lineup and promote the brand successfully to a new generation of consumers who are looking for more protein sources and may have no idea that the late company founder Robert Atkins created one of the original high-protein diets way back in 1989.

On the product side, this includes new selections such as a lineup of Harvest Trail Bars that offer 8 grams of protein and 9 to 10 grams of fiber in each—with less than 4 grams of sugar. And on the marketing side, the efforts include recruiting actress Alyssa Milano as Atkins’ new spokeswoman.

That puts them basically at odds with the dietary pattern of the past few decades in which fat has been the main culprit.

“We’re highlighting what the research is telling us. The low-fat propaganda of the past 30 years may not be the best approach for the majority of individuals and protein may be a viable option for the masses, not just to lose weight but as a wiser way to eat,” Colette Heimowitz, Atkins’ CMO, told brandchannel. “The wiser way is to curtail consumption of sugars and starches and focus on high-fiber carbohydrates and proteins. It’s not just a marketing ploy—it’s what research and clinical trials have been telling us all along.”

Indeed, just this week another report came out suggesting that a low-fat diet doesn’t lead to greater long-term weight loss than higher-fat diets including low-carb and Mediterranean-style diets. The systematic review of previoius research was published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.

Atkinsbrandchannel talked with Heimowitz about how Atkins is capitalizing on changing perceptions in science and in the marketplace:

brandchannel: Does it seem as if the science keeps coming your way?

Atkins Colette Heimowitz

Colette Heimowitz: Yes, and protein has really caught the imagination of the consumer. That’s why food companies now are calling out higher protein in their products. If it’s displacing carbs, it’s a step in the right direction.

bc: Has the growth in protein demand reached some sort of plateau or is it still ramping up?

Heimowitz: I hope it continues to build and bring attention away from low fat to macronutrients that will be more satisfying, so the population—which is increasingly becoming overweight and obese and prediabetic and diabetic—will eat less.


bc: Now you can get Cheerios Protein and protein water. Are some brands and products reaching too far to position themselves as appealing to protein-seeking consumers?

Heimowitz: If protein is replacing carbs and sugar in these products, it’s a good thing. Food scientists have become very clever at getting protein into food without affecting taste, using soy protein and others. If they’re taking out sugar and replacing it and other carbs with protein, it’s a step in the right direction.


bc: Marketing-wise, how is Atkins leveraging consumers’ desire for protein-oriented products?

Heimowitz: Our new celebrity spokesperson is Alyssa Milano. She doesn’t have a whole lot of weight to lose, of course. She’s just been getting over a pregnancy. And her talking points are that she’s a mom and wants to be healthy and eat right and provide the best food choices for her family, and doing it the Atkins way is better.

We also launched a program for our 40th anniversary that allows people into our diet program if they can consume 40 grams of carbohydrates a day. Our previous level of 20 grams proved too complicated and difficult for certain people. Now they can choose from a greater array of carbs including fruit and nuts and controlled portions of whole grains.

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