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 specialty business and consumers.
This month, we chose to interview Todd Lundgren. Todd is President of Midwest Low Carb Distribution,
as well as running an online low carb specialty store — Low Carb Outlet.
This was an in-person interview held in Columbus, Ohio on Friday, February 18, 2005. Todd's wife, Michelle, was there
for the interview also, and her comments are included as well.
Low Carb Luxury:
Todd, how do you describe your position in the low carb community?
My place in the low carb community is as the niche distributor that
people can go to to find the products that are moving. We like to be able
to tell our clients what's likely to move and what's not... even within
a single line from one manufacturer.
I had begun Low Carb Outlet in September 2002, right after my wife and I got
married. I was working 8 hours a day for Low Carb Outlet, and then follow
that with another 8 hours at the warehouse packing orders. As we got bigger,
we needed somewhere to work from, and we acquired our current warehouse.
The Low Carb Foods Association came to us and asked us to become a distributor.
That was when the first price list came out. And at that point I was fully
engaged in the running of Low Carb Outlet.
Everything needed to be streamlined to make it all work. The end result was
a better supply chain from the manufacturers to the retailers.
Do you and your wife practice a low carb lifestyle?
There are times when I go off, but my wife stays on it religiously because
she's (Type 1) diabetic. When I low carb, I try my best to stay mostly to the basics
in food and use the specialty products in moderation.
What's been the biggest benefit since adopting low carb?
In the beginning, most of the basics were what made up my diet.
But after awhile, I began to want something sweet, or something that felt
like I could stave off a craving. So with the special products we have
available to us, it's allowed me to maintain the lifestyle and keep me from
straying. My blood sugar on low carb has been such that I can now cut my
insulin dosage in half. I have more energy, and I really sleep better.
It's like night and day difference in my health. When I remember how far
I've come, it keeps me wanting to go forward. I happen to have a twin sister
that isn't diabetic and it used to seem so unfair to me, but now I realize
that I've gotten to discover a healthier way to eat; a lifestyle I would never
have known, if I hadn't been diabetic.
The biggest effect on me was seeing what it did for my father. He was a marathon runner.
He once ran 3 marathons over a 3 year period. His weight at that time was around 280 lbs
(at 6' 2"). He came to me 6 months after low carbing and he was 70 lbs lighter and no longer
on insulin. He was a completely changed person that at first I didn't recognize. Seeing that
was a more impacting experience than seeing changes in yourself. In the past he was running
as much as 100 miles a month and still the weight did not come off; still he wasn't healthy.
He was a trauma nurse for 30 years, knew a lot of conventional wisdom about nutrition, and
tried many things doctors told him to try. Nothing worked. Seeing him become healthy with
low carb was amazing.
How long has LowCarbOutlet been in operation and how did you get started?
Originally LowCarbOutlet got started because the inventory system for the
retail store (Fitness and Nutrition in Columbus) where I was working was
failing. Low Carb Outlet was given to me when I took over the tech position
for the inventory. That was September 15, 2002.
It was 4 days before Low Carb Outlet got its first order and within a month
we were extremely busy.
Tell us a little about Midwest Low Carb Distributors.
We test everything and we have to know we feel good about it. If we don't
approve it, we don't see how it can sell, so there's little point in offering
it to our retailers.
We believe we are very integrity driven. In everything that I do, I want to make
sure that every person's taken care of. If you need your order by Friday every
week, you'll get your order by Friday every week. We try to keep all products
in stock if possible, and when you call, you speak directly with me.
Would you give us a brief comparison of your experiences with online retail
vs. "brick 'n mortar" retail?
The biggest difference with something like low carb food... when you're
shopping online, you can't see it, touch it, feel it. You can't sample
it. Whereas in most retail stores, products are available for sampling.
With an online store, your best option is to suggest things, but there's a
fine line with that, because not everyone will share your personal taste
for something. I prefer being a supplier to a salesman.
For an online store, there's obviously less overhead (though perhaps not
as much as people think when they fail to realize a warehouse and staff for
it are still necessary.) For a retail store the benefit is obvious — face
to face contact with the customer.
What are your thoughts on the media craze that hit low carb in 2004?
I think the media craze was created more than anything else by big-name
companies trying to move questionable products... products that might be
fairly labeled as having less carbohydrates, but not necessarily appropriate
for a healthy low carb diet. That in turn got a lot of people trying low
carb, but they were trying it with products that were not destined to bring
them success and weight loss.
The marketing put behind it brought huge numbers of consumers onboard, but
when their diets failed and they stopped buying, the big companies pulled much
of their advertising, causing the media to read this as "low carb is dead."
The big companies were, for the most part, inaccessible. With the smaller
dedicated brands we'd all known for years, most of us in the industry knew
them personally. We'd meet face to face, be able to ask questions, and really
know what the story behind the products were. You can't do that with Kraft
Foods, or Kellogg's.
Where do you see the low carb industry going now?
Todd: The industry is headed for a big break. Some niche retailers that are low
carb only, may not do very well in the short term. Diversification is the
key, and retailers need to take an approach more like traditional health
food stores and carry lines to cater to those with various needs, including
vitamins and supplements. You can't put all your eggs in one basket. Even
within low carb, people follow different plans and have different needs.
The more you can diversify within specialty health foods, the better the base
you can cover will be, and the bigger your traffic will be.
Stores have to embrace the need to be able to educate customers as well.
What do you think will be the top selling item category for low carb and
specialty foods in 2005?
Snacks are probably the most important, and I mean non-sweet snacks. I think that
until the sugar alcohol problem is addressed, we'll see a decrease in low carb / sugar
free sweets. But snacks are great on the run, fill you up, offer you protein and fiber,
and they're getting better and better.
What has been the best thing that's happened to you as a result of being in
the low carb arena?
What I've learned. By being so big a part of this industry, I've been forced to
learn so much about sales, inventory, the technical aspects, and everything
else. It's given me the confidence to know that no matter where I go in life,
I'll have a boost; I'll know how to handle these challenges in any sort of
How about the worst?
Todd: The worst thing has been to see personal friends... good and honest people, go
out of business because of the rollercoaster. I get to know them well, I know
their kids, and to see them struggle and falter is the sickest feeling I know.
We can certainly relate to that one, Todd. We've seen the same thing, and it's difficult. On the
other hand, seeing the tenacity that some businesses have shown as they continue to fight to
serve the consumer has been very heart-warming.
Thank you so much, Todd and Michelle, for taking the time to allow us to interview you! And thank you
for the tour of your warehouse. We've learned a lot this evening.
Copyright © March 2005 Lora Ruffner and Neil Beaty for Low Carb Luxury.