In Great Shape

There are many joys attached to being a food consultant, but putting on weight as a result of all that sandwich tasting isn’t one of them. With dieting in mind, Nellie Nichols heads for Boots and finds their Shapers range a revelation, with some reservations, of course.

I really want to go on a diet. Possibly not the same one as Jared Fogle, better known as the ‘Subway Guy’. He went on a diet a few years back that entailed just eating Subway sandwiches. 700 sandwiches and about a year later he had lost 245 pounds. This may have had something to do with the fact he had a severe weight problem in the first place; he had a 60 inch waistline and weighed 425 pounds.

He said food was a comfort to him and that it replaced everything in his life. By the time he was 20 he was eating enough for five people a day – about 10,000 calories. Whilst attending Indiana University he lived in an apartment with a Subway next door. He normally popped in once or twice during the day for a few steak sandwiches, with extra cheese.

When the chain launched its ‘7 for 6’ campaign, 7 sandwiches with only 6g of fat, he thought he’d seize the chance and make it his new diet. After all, none of the countless others he’d desperately tried over the years had worked.

He went from bingeeating copious amounts to just eating two Subs a day: a six inch turkey and a foot long veggie. His weight plummeted from 425 pounds to a svelte 190. Five years later he is still maintaining his new weight and spends a lot of his time speaking to kids about child obesity.

It never occurred to him to tell Subway about the diet but the news got out anyway. Twenty commercials later he’s still being recognised and Subway sales have risen by 20 % so everyone’s happy. The irony is that if he puts the weight back on he loses his claim to fame and, whilst he’s not the biggest star out there, he’s continuing to enjoy his taste of celebrity.

Now I want to go on a diet because, quite frankly, the choice of sandwiches and salads now available in the marketplace if I do is staggeringly impressive.

Thankfully, gone are the days when all one had as an option was a hint of acidic, low calorie gummy mayo clinging to some excuse of tuna flakes as a diet sandwich, and a mountain of iceberg with some chicken shrapnel on top posing as a healthy low fat salad.

Today’s high street options are made up of a tonne of guilt free rational and realistic eating choices, often endorsed by straight-laced marketing, such as Pret’s ‘Eat with Your Head’ campaign. Finally consumers seem to have woken up to the fact that it’s actually possible to eat sensibly at lunchtime without constantly beating themselves up by analysing what they’re putting in their mouths.

So, I was going to partake in a good bit of interesting market analysis for you all but, well, I just stopped in my tracks when I got to Boots. Their overall offering, not just of their diet range, but sandwiches and snacks in general, is visually very impressive. Now to be honest, I am a big believer in that whole ‘jack of all trades, master of none theory’, but here appears to be a genuine one-stop-shop containing toy shop variety. I for one was completely unaware that the Shapers range originated some 28 years ago in 1979 and has now grown into what is mooted to be Boots’ second biggest brand behind its famous No.7.

Going through a rebirth four years ago it has, since then, developed into a range of some apparent sophistication.

For the dedicated calorie and gram counter there can’t be a better place to shop for lunch because here is an endless myriad of different products to mix and match that could last anyone intent on a daily visit literally for years. Taking this into account it was vital, for the purposes of drawing some conclusions, to limit my choice of products to try.

So I omitted the entire massive Shapers desserts range, along with those little enticing fruit and veg snack packs (well, like most of you I do know what carrots and cherry tomatoes taste like, so it’s safe to assume there wouldn’t be too many surprises there), and all the rather attractive drinks, not to mention all those lovely little snacky things in packets. Now I’m going to be candid about how I feel about sushi – and having worked with it as a product for some years the one rule that makes or breaks a good deluxe sushi pack is the freshness and temperature of the rice.

Any dedicated sushi eater will tell you the rice morphs from being moist fluffy grains to becoming totally hard and dry lumps of something more akin to glued Uncle Ben’s when it’s put through the chill chain. Yet to satisfy the safety regulations, a component as integral as this has, so often, to be ruined to make an appearance on the high street shelf. Having said that there are some nice combinations of vegetable maki rolls which are well seasoned and the prawns and salmon are of a good quality. I would also change the rather annoying miniature chopsticks for telescopic ones, which are far easier to use, but at £3.50 and 354 calories this seems a good buy.

Moving onto the salads on offer, here is where I think Boots have moved on in leaps and bounds against some of the competition. It’s almost impossible in my book to tick all three boxes of good taste, good value and ridiculously low calories and fat.

Yet with the three I picked they’ve appear to have done it with every one – not perfect, because, as we know, little ever is, but without a doubt, impressive. The Chicken Caesar is £2.65 and 191 calories with 5.6g of fat. The croutons are deliciously crunchy and crispy and taste like they were made yesterday; moist char grilled chicken and tasty cheese. The only thing that lets it down is the dressing which is thin and too acidic for me but it’s a very presentable diet option indeed.

The King Prawn Noodle Salad clocks in at £2.80, 239 calories and 2.4g of fat. This is generous with the prawns, has lovely noodles and is full of delicious and interesting additions: red and yellow peppers, fresh chard and spinach leaves, carrots and coriander – again the dressing disappoints, a gloopy gum of vague sweet and sourness.

I have to say I absolutely love their Superfoods Salad. Take it from me all you competition, it’s remarkable that such a star can so effortlessly be developed with only “There’s no question about it: the big guys are at it again, upping the ante in innovation in the overall development stakes. I love it 41 calories, 1.3g of fat and costing a very reasonable £2.55 while containing such delicious and healthy stuff. The cast includes baby purple basil leaves, broccoli, endive, rocket, carrots, soya beans, red pepper, radish, sweetcorn and peas and joy of joys: a totally tasty lime and soy dressing, proof it can easily be done without cornflour.

The Chicken Tikka Flatbread is only 263 calories, 4.9g of fat and costs £2.35. Very good and tasty value – it could have done with some more varied spice (not really tikka flavours in my book sorry) and would have been enhanced by a bit of mango chutney, but I’d eat it again.

The Sweet Chilli Chicken Wrap comes in at 290 calories, only 3.6g of fat and again costs £2.35. Admirable in dietary terms but here’s that gummy sauce again and the roast chicken is dry – I would have used the char-grilled instead. I have no idea why it contains low fat cream cheese either but there you go, somebody knows better than me.

There’s a Chicken and Basil Pesto Ciabatta at £2.45 with 339 calories and 7.1g of fat, which sounds a lot compared to the others but still isn’t in my book. This has a lovely neat box to sit in and I like the peppers and leaves a lot. I have to say though that the descriptions on the labels are beginning to get to me as they just don’t quite hit the mark in humour or description without sounding as if they are trying far too hard for my liking.

The only wedge I’ve picked up is the Ham, Soft Cheese and Sunblush Tomato at 265 calories, 5.2g of fat and only £2.20. Despite the cringingly silly description this is a good sandwich – the acidity of the low fat cheese counteracted by the Sunblush, reliable as always and packed with flavour. I’d eat this again but have to say I know I would be hungry an hour later. Perhaps another generous handful of salad leaves would do the trick.

In all honesty, I felt I had to include some non ‘diet’ options in this exercise as well, as only then is it possible to get a full taste perspective on how rounded the overall flavour truly is in the lower calorie, lower fat ranges. There is just a chance that some of them may have turned out to be just very attractive imposters but, as you’ve read, and having tasted them they clearly aren’t.

The New York Collection has very attractively designed stylised labels (again though, whoever is writing the descriptions please calm it down a little, or better still stop) with images of New York which drew me to them, having just been there.

The Four Cheese and Beetroot, £2.70 is a lovely sandwich made on very good interesting seedy bread. I would have made far more of the grains and seeds that have been included, especially as so many have valuable health benefits.

The Italian Hero, also £2.70 is innovative and my biggest scorer by far.

Higher in calories and fat (oh, never mind) it’s made with great ingredients: good salami and ham, provolone cheese (always good in a sandwich), char-grilled artichokes (brave because no one ever uses them and they are so delicious) peppers and aioli dressing. I could have eaten this one under a tree in Hyde Park with a nice glass of red and some summer fruit as part of a spur of the moment London picnic or a working lunch.

So there you have it. There’s no question about it: the big guys are at it again, upping the ante in innovation in the overall development stakes. I love it. Everyone has to keep tasting and comparing to keep on their toes, and products and ranges consequently keep getting better and better. Who knows what’s round the corner. But one thing’s for certain – it all goes to prove we are and hopefully will continue to lead the global market in this field.

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