The exploding appeal of low-carb, high-protein diets is driving more food companies to add such fare to their retail offerings.

In fact, low-carb diets' popularity has grown to the point that the bread and pasta industry is feeling the pinch. Consumption of bread sank in the U.S. in 2003, with 40% of Americans saying they ate less bread than the year before.

Total sales of low-carb products were expected to top $15 billion in 2003, says Dean Rotbart, editor of LowCarbiz, a trade newsletter. In 2004, that sales number may reach $30 billion.

The list of low-carb newcomers includes outfits like Holiday Inn, which is now offering a “Low-Carb Inspirations” breakfast menu. In addition, 7-11 convenience stores have added an Atkins line of products that includes a line of low-carb breakfast bars. And Denny's restaurants intend to revamp their menu this spring to promote its low-carb menu items — half of which are breakfast items.

The Subway sandwich chain is offering two, low-carb meal options in its Atkins®-Friendly Wraps program, while Burger King is offering Whoppers minus the bread.

Meanwhile, some McDonald's restaurants are displaying posters and brochures advising customers on how they can lower their carb intake by modifying what they order. Wendy's is offering similar information on its Web site www.wendys.com.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Unilever is debuting 18 new low-carb products — alternatives to its traditional product offerings of Skippy peanut butter, Lawry's steak sauce, Ragu spaghetti sauces and Wishbone salad dressings. Unilever reportedly estimates that the 18 products could generate as much as $1 billion in sales in 2005.

Hardee's added a low-carb, ⅓-lb., Angus beef Thickburger in mid-December. It's sister company Carl's Jr., added a low-carb version of its ½-lb. Six Dollar Burger at the same time. Both offerings are bunless, lettuce-wrapped burgers.

And, in early December, the restaurant chain T.G.I. Friday's added two Atkins®-approved appetizers and a number of Atkins®-approved entrees to its menus in 520 of its 800+ restaurants. T.G.I. Friday's called the deal a “first-of-its-kind partnership with Atkins Nutritionals, Inc.”