NEW YORK — Nonfat cheese that tastes like plastic. Low-calorie soda that leaves a bitter aftertaste. Sugar-free brownies that crumble like Styrofoam.
Dieters have learned an important lesson: When you take the fat and calories out of your favorite treats, you sometimes have to say goodbye to the taste too.
But snack brands like Dreyer's/Edy's ice cream, Hershey's chocolate and Lay's potato chips are trying to solve this age-old dieter's dilemma by rolling out so-mid-calorie goodies that have more fat and calories than the snacks of earlier diet crazes but less than the original versions. They're following the lead of soda companies like Pepsi and Dr Pepper that introduced mid-calorie drinks last year.
It's hard to isolate sales of mid-calorie snacks since they also usually have reduced fat, or other healthy attributes like reduced sodium. But sales of all foods and drinks in which the amount of things like fat, sugar, salt, carbohydrates have been actively reduced during production have risen 16 percent to $51.72 billion since 2006, according to research firm Euromonitor International.
The mid-calorie trend is hitting at a time when companies that make sugary and salty treats are being blamed for the country's expanding waistlines. The problem is that the same things that make snacks taste good — sugar, salt, calories — also make them fattening. And many Americans don't want to sacrifice taste at snack time. Shaving a few calories enables companies to market their cakes, cookies and chips as healthier without the stigma of bad taste that goes along with some low-fat products.
It's just the kind of marketing that might attract Monica Olivas. She says she wants to lead a healthy lifestyle, including curbing her fat and caloric intake as much as possible. But most low-fat foods just don't appeal to her.
"Sometimes companies go too far and take out all the fat — and all the flavor," says Olivas, a 29-year-old recruiter from Pico Rivera, Calif.