CHARLESTOWN - Americans' low-carb, no-carb, high-protein diets are beefing up revenues for one local meat processor.
Devault Foods noticed the growth pattern last year, said Gerry Mello, vice president of sales and marketing at the family-owned and run meatball, burger patty and Philly-style steak maker headquartered on White Horse Road in Devault.
"We recognized the trend and jumped on the bandwagon," said Mello, who set about to "get the word out."
Indeed, no-carb or low-carb foods are the hot ticket as 35 million Americans, or about 12 percent, are on carb-controlled diets, according to Cambridge, Mass.-based Opinion Dynamics Corp., an opinion/market research company.
The trend is a result of the South Beach and The Zone weight-loss diets which came out of the low-carb program developed by the late Dr. Robert Atkins, a cardiologist who published his first diet book in 1972.
Devault is not the first to notice the trend.
Research company Mintel International Group reports since the start of 2004, some 994 new low-carb products have gone on the market compared to 392 in 2003 and 26 in 2000.
Meanwhile, pasta makers are trying to use their noodle to find ways to hold on to their slippery market shares.
Not all have been successful.
Harrisburg-based New World Pasta, makers of San Giorgio and Ronzoni brands, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month, in part due to America's new obsession with carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are certain organic compounds including sugars and starches and found in such things as breads, potatoes and pasta.
For Devault, it was not a matter of producing new products. Beef products are by definition protein with low or no carbohydrates. In addition, Mello notes, among Devault's big sellers, its burgers are 75-90 percent lean and its Philly-style steaks 85-95 percent lean.
Although burger patties are traditionally served on a carb-heavy bun and Philly-style steaks on a roll, Mello said Devault sales are going up as restaurants have developed new menus with low-carb sections where beef entries are served with steamed vegetables and without the bread.
Mello said the continuing uptick in beef sales is surprising because it comes at a time when beef prices are at an unprecedented high. Mello blames mad cow disease, which has halted beef imports and exports coupled with rising feed grain and fuel costs.
Mello said truck shipments from Devault carry a fuel surcharge to its customers.
"Prices are high but, despite that, people still want it," Mello said. "Demand has outpaced production."
If the international market opens up and the U.S. can once again export beef to Canada, Mexico and Japan, beef prices will go even higher, Mello warns.
Devault Foods started in the beef business in July 4, 1949, with a one-room butcher shop. Later, Tom DiFillippo Sr. built a small slaughterhouse on a parcel of his father's 100-acre dairy farm.
DiFillippo operated the butcher shop until 1960 when the company switched its focus to the fast-food industry.
By 1968, Devault was exclusively a portion-controlled meat processing business.
Tom DiFillippo, DiFillippo's son, took over as company president in 1971.
Devault no longer operates a slaughterhouse. Meats are brought in either fresh or frozen for processing.
Today Devault Foods has 200 employees with a corporate footprint covering the East Coast and Midwest states and annual sales of $85 million. It serves food distributors, national and regional restaurant chains, hotels, school, hospitals and the military.
Mello said the company plans to build a new corporate office on its Charlestown property next year. Its long-term plan is to double its space, add employees and expand its sales force, he said.