Wednesday, July 21st 2004

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Viva Italia! Buca offers low carbs, small plates

In many a consumer's mind, Italian food is the death knell of a low-carbohydrate diet.

To combat this assumption, executives at Buca Inc. have launched a new "Carb Cutter Menu," which offers 18 items with net carbs of nine grams or fewer for a 3.5-ounce serving.

The appetizers, salads, entrees and side dishes on the menu are not new. However, the menu represents the first time Minneapolis-based Buca has promoted any of its items as low-carb.

"Depending on the source you look at, there are between 15 to 30 million people out there who are on some form of low-carb program now," said Steve Hickey, Buca's chief marketing officer. "To many, it's become a lifestyle and not just a diet. ... It became clear to us that we'd have to address that."

Buca reported a $3.9 million loss for the second quarter of 2004, ended June 30. Same-store sales for the company's Buca di Beppo restaurants were down 3.6 percent for the quarter.

One food and marketing expert said Buca's Carb Cutter makes sense even if fad diets such as Atkins and South Beach lose a bit of their following. "Even if people aren't on the diet anymore, they're still watching their carbs," said Steve Ostrander, vice president of marketing for Crystal Farms, a subsidiary of Minnetonka-based Michael Foods Inc.

While it is clear low-carb diets have caused a softening of sales for Italian restaurants, Hickey said it is impossible to determine the precise impact on Buca's bottom line.

The company hopes its Carb Cutter and an even larger initiative -- Buca Small -- will help win business back. Buca Small is a menu that features lower-priced, smaller portions of Buca's signature entrees. Introduced in March, the concept generated about 34 percent of sales in the second quarter of this year.

Carb Cutter will be promoted only in the individual stores. The company plans to advertise Buca Small via print ads in USA Today as well as 20 to 25 national newspapers.

Low Carb Sugar Free Peanut Butter Cups
Makes approximately 36 servings

Ingredients Filling:
10 oz butter - nuke on 'defrost' to soften (not melt) it
10 oz peanut butter - add to soft butter
1½ tsp. each vanilla
6 Tb sp.Steviva Blend or equivalent
1 1/4 cups Protein Powder to mix - around
4 Tb sp. of well-ground flax seeds

Mix this all up to a soft dough. Put a teaspoonful into each paper cup, and put them in the fridge while you make the chocolate.

Arrange 36 cupcake papers on a large sponge roll pan.

Chocolate Covering:

4 oz Butter
4 oz vegetable shortening
4 Tb sp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. Vanilla essence
16 Tb sp.Steviva Blend or equivalent
1/2 cup heavy cream

Soften the butter a little by microwave on low power a minute or two, then add the vegetable shortening and repeat. Don't melt it; just soften it. Stir it until all the lumps are gone, adding the cocoa powder, the vanilla, and the Steviva Blend or equivalent.

Continue stirring (a whisk is good) as you slowly trickle the heavy cream.

By the time you finish adding the cream it should be starting to thicken a bit.

Take out your cups from the fridge, and spoon or pour a generous blob of "icing" on top of each one. Keep on going until it is all used up. Will be nice and thick. You can add a sprinkle of chopped nuts ... it's nice to have help with this so you can get the job finished before the chocolate starts to set.

For best results use butter and coconut fat that have been left out of the fridge and are really soft so that they don't need microwave. I think not getting the ingredients too hot or melted is the secret to successful chocolate making.

Keep refrigerated

Carbohydrates per Serving : 2.42 - Carbohydrates per Serving minus Fiber: 1.98

For More Low Carb and Sugar Free Recipes Go To Steviva Recipes!

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