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Can low-carb brands tempt you with not-so-sweet cookies, toaster pastries and cheesecakes?

Shoppers are interested in the benefits of reducing their carbohydrate intake. Can brands convince them to snack on their not-so-sweet alternatives?

Raize launched its low-carb cookies in January 2022. (Photo: Raize)
NEW YEAR, NEW FOODS

As the new year begins, plenty of Americans will have decided that now is the time for a health kick. And instead of cutting calories, many may choose instead to watch their carbohydrate intake instead.

Every January, interest in carb-cutting and the ‘keto’ diet, where the focus is on eating a diet high in fats and protein and with very minimal carbohydrates, spikes according to data from trend forecaster Glimpse.

The scrutiny of carbohydrates is also taking on new forms thanks to brands like Ultrahuman and Levels, which sell devices that monitor the levels of glucose (the molecule carbohydrates are broken down into by the body) in the blood, and social media sensations like Jessie Inchauspé, the author of Glucose Revolution, a book that promises to help readers kick cravings by steadying their blood sugar levels.

Scratching the sugar itch

Some cravings are easier to kick than others, though. Products made with refined carbohydrates (think white bread and pasta) are common staples of the U.S. diet, along with sugary sodas, chocolate bars, and other types of processed foods.

To help people hit their low-carb goals, a number of brands have come out with products that let people make an easy switch. The Better Bagel, launched in 2021, contains 90% fewer carbs than your standard bagel, while Magic Spoon is a cereal for people that want to eat Cheerios but don’t want the sugar crash that comes later. Flock Foods sells chips made with chicken, Immi sells a low-carb alternative to instant ramen, and Hero Bread makes low calorie, low-carb sliced bread. In the sweets aisle, there’s Sundays’ Oreo-like cookies, Wonder Monday’s keto cheesecakes and Legendary’s Pop-Tarts alternatives.

Zach Ranen, the founder of better-for-you cookie brand Raize, says his interest in low-carb products stemmed from a desire to eat with his blood sugar levels in mind. When he couldn’t find an alternative for a fresh-from-the-bakery style cookie, he decided to make it himself.

He worked with the expert pastry chef Jeff Yoskowitz to develop a recipe that uses nut flours and monk fruit, stevia and erythritol for sweetness. “Sugar does a lot for a baked good outside of just taste. It’s important for texture and how a cookie will bake, brown and spread,” he explains. In pictures the brand has been tagged in on Instagram, the cookies look pretty close to the real thing — complete with the irregular, browned edges that you might expect to see on a cookie you made yourself.

Who will eat a keto cookie?

But they are not the same as a cookie that’s been made with sugar, Ranen agrees. While they are sweet, he says that consumers used to eating cookies made with sugar would be able to notice the difference — much in the way regular Coca Cola drinkers would notice if they’d been given a Diet Coke, for example.

This means that, right now, Ranen says his product is probably best suited to someone who’s already familiar with the taste of these alternative sweeteners. So far, Ranen says Raize has been able to grow its revenue from around $10,000 per month shortly after it launched in January 2022 to $50,000 a month by December. The ultimate challenge, though, will be reaching customers beyond in-the-know carb-cutters.

Ranen says it is partly a matter of consumers getting used to the taste of these products — something he thinks will happen as more is understood about the effects of overconsuming sugar and pressure is put on brands and retailers to provide alternatives.

It's a problem commonly faced by brands that are trying to mimic a food that consumers crave — the Better Bagel has been described as "slightly sour" in the New York Times, for example, while Wonder Monday reformulated the crust on its cheesecakes following customer feedback.

“I view the alternative sweetness movement as a collaborative effort. It’s not just Raize up against other better for you desert products,” he says. “It’s [about] bringing more of those products to the market so people are used to and expecting what we are bringing. A rising tide lifts all boats in [this] segment.”