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Boots in controversial tie-up for Atkins range UK launch

LONDON - High-street retailer Boots has signed a deal with the company behind the Atkins diet range to distribute its low-carbohydrate foods in the UK.

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Boots has signed the deal, despite repeated concerns from doctors and other health experts that the high-fat and low-vegetable content diet could cause health problems.

With Boots on board, Atkins Nutritional will gain immediate credibility after it was initially rebuffed by other high-street retailers.

Supermarket Sainsbury's said it had no plans to stock the range and rival Tesco has made no indication that it plans to carry the Atkins-branded foods.

Atkins announced it was launching in the UK in August, but it has taken five months to sign a distribution deal. However, with the reach of Boots and its focus on health, Atkins Nutritional has struck lucky.

A recent survey found that the majority of the UK public would not buy Atkins-branded foods, regardless of the fact that almost everyone has heard of the Atkins diet, according to an OMD Snapshots survey conducted exclusively for Marketing.

The Atkins range has been launched to take advantage of the Atkins diet fad popularised by Dr Robert Atkins' top-selling book 'The Diet Revolution'.

In the UK, the food range will go on sale on January 5 in time for the post-Christmas dieting rush.

Atkins Nutritionals has dismissed criticism of its products and said that it is simply responding to public demand.

Roger Spicer, Atkins managing director in the UK, said: "We are responding to demand from the public. Currently, some 6,000 people are buying American products over the internet and having them shipped over."

He estimates that as many as 4m people in the UK are currently pursuing an Atkins diet and the company hopes to cash in on that wave of interest.

Boots shrugged off criticism and also pointed to the millions of Britons following the Atkins lifestyle.

"As the largest health retailer in the UK, we feel we can't ignore the customer demand," a spokesman said.

However, Amanda Wynne, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, said the company was taking advantage of people with another fad diet.

"People who are struggling with their weight are very vulnerable and have problems with low self esteem," she said.

The range of food to go on sale in Boots includes a £1.79 Atkins Advantage Bar with no more than three grammes of carbohydrate and 22 grammes of protein. Also on offer are boxes of 10 shake mixes priced £11.69 and Morning Shine breakfast bars at £4.99.

The launch of the range will be a new headache for Unilever. The popularity of the diet has hit sales of Unilever's Slimfast brand.

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