People - January 2006

The Atkins Diet has his business cooking

By Bert Woodard

John Troy’s experience with the Atkins Diet mirrored that of many Americans. He got spectacular short-term gains but couldn’t maintain them.

Troy, 66, wasn’t following the diet, which concentrates on foods low in carbohydrates and high in protein. He was supplying it. His Yanceyville company, The Wizard’s Cauldron Ltd., made steak and barbecue sauces and salad dressings under the Atkins name. He made his pitch to Melville, N.Y.-based Atkins Nutritional officials at a 2002 trade show. “It was all about eating salads and proteins. I suggested they brand a line of condiments [dieters] normally couldn’t have to go on those things.” The key, he says, was substituting sucralose — marketed as Splenda — for sugar.

Wizard’s Cauldron had revenue of $6.4 million in 2003 — up from about $2.5 million the year before, with most of the increase from Atkins sales. But the next year, the bottom fell out: Wizard’s Cauldron revenue dropped to $4 million, and Atkins Nutritional is now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

But he is accustomed to rebuilding his businesses. “I’m unemployable, so I guess I have to be an entrepreneur.” Troy, who admits that he is fuzzy about some dates, grew up in Durham. In 1959, after a year at what is now Campbell University and a year at Duke, he dropped out.

He dabbled in stereo sales in the ’60s, but after two failed marriages, he decided to sell the last thing he owned — a Volkswagen — and move to Jamaica, where he spent time with a native he calls Jamesy. “I was into natural foods, but he would go into the wild bush country and literally feed me foods from the wild — roots and leaves and fruits he would harvest.”

He left Jamaica in 1972 after about five months and wandered for a year before setting up stands to sell herbs and spices in natural-food stores in Chapel Hill and Durham. He also started a healing-arts nonprofit that he funded by selling candy bars he made from ground fruit, nuts and grain and sweetened with honey.

That led him in 1984 to secure investors from Chapel Hill and form American Natural Foods. It made an organic barbecue sauce from miso, a soy paste. But it was bottled by one company and distributed and sold by another. “I built more company than I had business.” He got out in 1986.

Later that year, he started The Wizard’s Cauldron. This time he was doing his own bottling in a small factory in Cedar Grove. Sales took off, and he expanded the plant but ran into Orange County zoning restrictions. He moved the business to Yanceyville in 2003. He’s up to 25 employees, and the business is recovering from the loss of the Atkins sales. It had $5 million in revenue in 2005 and expects to top $6.5 million this year. “We have a more diversified customer base now.”