Son of a So-Be
by Dan Malovany
If you sell bread to Wal-Mart, and you attended the American Society of Baking (ASB) conference earlier this month, you probably mumbled your favorite curse word under your breath on the last day of the show.
That’s when Bruce Peterson, senior vice president, general merchandise manager of perishables for Wal-Mart Stores, spoke. For those who don’t know him, Peterson is in charge of merchandising and procurement for meat, produce, bakery and commercial bread for domestic Super Centers, Wal-Mart Stores, and the new Neighborhood Markets.
That makes him a Big Kahuna when it comes to buying packaged bread for Wal-Mart.
So, when Peterson told the ASB audience that he was on the South Beach Diet, it may have come as a mild surprise to some. But the audience got really quiet when he noted that he hadn’t eaten an ounce of bread since the beginning of the year. Not one crumb. Then he added that he wasn’t planning to eat any bread until he shed the additional pounds that he wanted to lose. 
For anybody who has been a proponent of bread and other grain-based foods, I have just five words to whisper — Son of a South Beach.
Peterson went on the South Beach Diet upon the recommendation of his doctor. Peterson noted that he tried to argue with his doctor about the pros and cons of carbohydrates, but the physician convinced him that going on a low-carb diet was the best and quickest way to lose weight. And, he said, it’s worked. By sticking to a low-carb regimen, he’s been able to successfully shed a couple dozen pounds.
Although the low-carb trend has waned, Peterson added that it hasn’t gone away. Carb watching, he says, has become an integral part of America’s diet consciousness and will remain so for some time.
So what does Peterson, the new low-carb disciple, think about white bread? Well, he agreed with other speakers that “white bread isn’t dead yet.” But, he added that it does have a serious “fever.” Recent scanning data shows that white bread sales continue to decline while multigrain and whole-grain breads are increasing at double-digit rates. He suspects that there will be a continued shift in the bread aisle toward more whole- grain alternatives in the future.
Peterson is not the only bigwig in the food industry to go on the South Beach Diet. Roger Deromedi, Kraft Foods’ chief executive, began the diet around Christmas and has since shed 12 lbs. He’s says he’s living proof that the diet works.
Not surprisingly, Kraft has entered a partnership with cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston, the South Beach Diet’s author. Starting in April, Kraft’s South Beach Diet- branded foods, which include everything from frozen pizzas to cereal bars, will be available to consumers.
If anybody thinks the low-carb craze is dead, tell that to these executives at Wal-Mart and Kraft, who have big-time advertising budgets and merchandising power to keep the momentum going.
Sure, the Grain Foods Foundation and the baking industry have been successful in promoting the goodness of breads so far this year. However, the battle is far from over.
Editor’s Note: Congratulations to ASB for making a quantum leap to the 21st Century when its keynote motivation speaker, Steve Farber, an expert on leadership, introduced the group to the concept of “OS!M.” Basically, OS!M stands for something that sounds like oh-sheep moment. It officially became part of the society’s vernacular after incoming chairman Gary Brodsky used the term in his acceptance speech.
As a personal fan of OS!M, I strongly urge the society’s technical terms committee to consider the following definition for OS!: “Those words commonly uttered when experiencing a shocking situation that makes you feel like you are going to inadvertently pooh-pooh in your pants.”
Then again, maybe not. As they say, SO-BE it.