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Low-carb company Atkins files for bankruptcy

NEW YORK -- Atkins Nutritionals Inc., the company that promoted low-carb eating into a national diet craze, filed for bankruptcy court protection yesterday, a company spokesman said.

Atkins has been hurt by waning popularity of its namesake diet, which focuses on eliminating carbohydrates such as bread and pasta to shed weight. The diet became one of the most popular in US history, spawning a virtual cottage industry of low-carb regimens -- but also drew criticism from specialists for its focus on fatty foods and low fruit and vegetable consumption.

A hearing on the prearranged, Chapter 11 filing is scheduled fortoday in US Bankruptcy Court, said spokesman Richard Rothstein. The privately held company, founded in 1989 by Dr. Robert C. Atkins, said it had reached an agreement with the majority of its lenders to give them equity in exchange for lowered debt.

Atkins owes $300 million in outstanding principal and interest, Rothstein said.

The company said it had received $25 million in financing to operate during the bankruptcy proceedings, which it said would not affect day-to-day operations.

President and CEO Mark S. Rodriguez said that in the last year, the company has ''adjusted our organization to accommodate a smaller business" and will promote its brands ''more broadly for consumers who are concerned about heath and wellness."

After it leaves bankruptcy, the company, based in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., will focus on its nutrition bars and shakes, Rodriguez said in a statement.

Private equity firm Parthenon Capital LLC acquired a majority stake in Atkins in October 2003. Goldman Sachs Capital Partners owns a smaller stake in the company, as does the estate of Robert Atkins, who died in 2003 of injuries he suffered in a fall.

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