Low Carb Luxury continues its series of interviews with key players in the low carb industry in our
ongoing effort to be the liaison between business and consumers. For this issue, we were fortunate to be
able to sit down with Andrew DiMino of CarbSmart.
Low Carb Luxury:
Give us a little background on yourself. Are you currently following a low-carb plan? And how did you come to
be involved in the low carb industry?
Andrew DiMino: I have always been overweight and nothing I tried ever worked. Then about seven years ago, I saw that
a co-worker had lost about 25 lbs. I asked him how he did it, and he told me he'd done it with Atkins.
I said, "What? I've never heard of that..."
He told me all about it. He began to tell me how he'd lost his weight eating meats and cheeses and
things he loved. I was thinking, "yeah, right..." So he sat down with me and told me his story.
Six months later, I decided to buy the Atkins book... and six months after that, I decided to
read the book!
I went on to read Protein Power and began to really understand the science of
low carb. At that point, it was a matter of "What do I have to lose?" I began induction, and the first four days were
rough. The carb cravings were strong. I'm Italian and I really craved pasta. But when the cravings subsided, I found
I no longer needed such things. I had no problem enjoying omelettes for breakfast, and chicken caesar salads for
lunch (without the croutons) and great dinners of meats and veggies.
I lost weight fast and after losing the first 40 lbs, I began to search online for carb friendly products.
At the time, I was an internet strategist for Gateway Computers. I had built websites and had done online marketing,
and I discovered there was very little out there that was affordable or professional looking. So I decided to take my
experience with internet marketing and branding and create a great site for low carb shoppers. I thought to myself,
"I could be really smart about this..." and as I said it, I realized... "CarbSmart!"
I immediately went out and registered the trademark. I found products, and within
six months I began carbsmart.com. We started with 150 products. I made an announcement in a newsgroup and that day got
three orders. We've had orders every day since then. We opened May 9, 1999. We celebrated 5 years this past May.
I wanted it to be about people, so I made sure that my personal story was an important part of CarbSmart. And I
wanted it known that my personal guarantee was a part of the CarbSmart "brand." We wanted to offer information, support,
recipes, and a lot more than just a store. We have over 400 articles on the site at this point. Our growth has been a
lot of fun. I was amazed that I was able to create this from an idea and immediately succeed.
Would you give us a brief comparison of your experiences with online retail vs. "brick 'n mortar" retail?
From the very beginning, I knew that I wanted to have "CarbSmart" stores. But I was so busy with the website, that I
kept getting my plans delayed. About two years ago, I said to myself, "If I don't do this now, I am never going to
do it." So we found a space here in Hunntington Beach, California that we liked. By that time I'd visited other stores
enough to know how I wanted to present CarbSmart. We wanted to create a community for people to visit, try new products,
and learn. That's been the best experience of the retail stores.
Cost-wise, profitabity was about the same for the stores and the website order per order. It costs more to run a store,
but when people get to really see the products, read the labels, ask questions, etc, they purchase more. Because we're here
for them, we're able to help them make better decisions. We've done seminars, and have had authors do book signings at our
store. But with the website, there's the advantage of our being available 24 hours, and providing so many articles and pieces of
information we couldn't adequately share in the store.
When did you realize you were onto something big?
I believe I knew I was onto something big when I lost my first 50 pounds. I knew that the low carb revolution
was going to be big then. And I don't mean big money-wise. I mean that I realized that now, people who'd never been
able to be successful at weight loss before were going to win! So as long as the products stayed true and people followed
their plans, that's where the big successes would come from.
When I was interviewed on Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, I knew it was headed for big media attention and I was so glad
to be a part of that. The low carb lifestyle is a winning lifestyle.
Big companies entered the playing field like Kraft, Kellogg's, General Mills, etc
labeling their products low carb and then adding flour, HFCS, and sugar. However, I continue to see "the light at
the end of the tunnel." The products we carry at CarbSmart are mostly made by companies run by people doing low carb.
They understand what ingredients are appropriate to put into a true low carb product.
We're now beginning to see some of these big companies exit the low carb market and I welcome it — not for me, but
for my customers who've become confused and who have been lied to.
Tell us a little about the various licensing deals you've become involved in?
One of the things I really wanted to do with CarbSmart was to create my own product. I had always protected
the trademark of my CarbSmart name. Several years ago there were companies who wanted to use the
name. At the time, we kindly refused, but we knew that we wanted to have CarbSmart products. Then a year and a
half ago, Unilever came to us to request licensing our name for the Breyer's and Klondike brands of ice cream.
We tried the products and liked them very much.
The one drawback, was that at the time, they were using HFCS in the
ice cream. However, with their assurance that this was a temporary fix and that they'd be replacing it soon, we
agreed to license it, and thus was born CarbSmart Ice Cream.
They did indeed change the product in a short time. We've had a very good relationship with them and they do
seem to care about doing the right thing and standing by the low carb dieter.
Soon, a couple of other companies came to us with the desire to license the CarbSmart name. We were pleased to
strike deals with Monterey Pasta of Salinas, California, and with Bayer for their new CarbSmart Multi-Vitamins.
There were, of course, also companies that came to us that we turned down because we didn't see them as a "fit"
with our values.
As a small business owner, how were you viewed and treated by the large food manufacturers?
Andrew: I spoke with a couple of major manufacturers that have since created "low carb"
products that contain bleached white flour and sugar. I offered them advice about this, trying to dissuade them,
but they dismissed my advice.
They did it their way, and of course I see them now as "the bad guys" — those that will put "low carb" on
anything just to make a buck. It's the small to mid-range companies for the most part that really want the
lifestyle AND their products to succeed.
As we continue as a low carb retailer, we'll deal only with those companies that put out products that are
truly low carb and are being honest with the public.
What has been the best thing that's happened to you as a result of being in the low carb arena?
Andrew: The best thing is that I've been able to create a business that I enjoy. I get to help others
and meet great people.
How about the worst?
During the first 5 years, we were in hyper-growth mode. I was so stressed out from working
constantly on the business, that I had a stroke this year. I was in the hospital for 3 1/2 weeks. I've had to learn to
balance my need to grow this business with an understanding that there's more to life than work.
I told people in my newsletter about my stroke and let them know that we all need to put things into perspective. I got
many supportive emails including one that told me I'd inspired them to change to part time at work so that they could actually
live their life a little also. There's a lot more to life than making money.
Do you have any theories on what caused such a large "boom" in the industry?
Andrew: A grass roots movement that started with people talking online, websites like Low Carb Luxury, message boards, etc, finally
got so large that it hit critical mass. It became so large, the media could no longer ignore or dismiss it. It was beginning to
impact sales of high carb foods, restaurants, low-fat product makers, etc. They began to fight back and a media story was born.
The news stories started with themes like "here's someone claiming some success with low carb.." in a way that showed they weren't
really buying it. And over time, the stories began to include massives successes, and results of research studies. It was no
longer an interesting novelty, but a truth that couldn't be ignored. Doctors were being interviewed and more money was available for
further studies. It became the vindication of Dr. Atkins.
How about the decline?
With every positive story, there are always negative ones. Some of those (not really based on truth) were arranged by those
who stood to lose big with low carb's success. So the media began seeing there was still controversy. Controversy sells.
There were also a lot of businesses who jumped on the bandwagon of product manufacturing, until there were just too many. Too
many specialty stores. Too many online stores. Too many products out there that were deceptive and caused people to fail.
What do you think was the single most damaging element or event to the public perception of low carb this year?
I don't think there was any ONE single thing... I think it was just too much poured into the market segment when there
was not enough demand. Not everyone in the country was doing low carb or needed to be.
What will be CarbSmart's strategic response to the downturn?
CarbSmart still focuses on smart choice for a low carb lifestyle. Whether it's products that put the term "low carb" on
the label or ones that don't, it needs to be a great product that people want and that helps people maintain their lifestyle.
So we'll be doing a "fine tuning" rather than a restructure. We'll be repositioning ourselves; weeding out some products; trying
to find more and better products. We'll be expanding to serve other lifestyles as well, from gluten-free to sugar-free.
What do you see as the future of Low Carb, and how do you, Andrew, intend to prepare for it?
I believe in the low carb lifestyle and will continue to live it always. My weight has
fluctuated over the years as stress comes and goes. But I'll be sticking with it regardless. Now that I've been
married for 8 months, I want to really enjoy my life. I am looking forward to that and continuing to help others.
Thank you so much for taking the time to allow us to interview you!
We wish CarbSmart (and all your endeavors) the very best of luck and prosperity!
Copyright © November 2004 Lora Ruffner and Neil Beaty for Low Carb Luxury.
CarbSmart? logo copyright ? 2004 CarbSmart, Inc.;
19142 Beach Blvd, Suite Z; Huntington Beach, CA 92648