With so many unlikely players jumping on the low-carb bandwagon, it's difficult to know who's serious. You've got companies like 7-Eleven (NYSE:SE), Yum Brands!'s (NYSE:YUM) KFC, and Anheuser-Busch (NYSE:BUD) all trying to hook consumers on the slimming attributes of Slurpees, fried chicken, and beer.

But this is serious business: Atkins-branded reduced carbohydrate products were among the drivers American Italian Pasta (NYSE:PLB) cited when discussing its fiscal 2003 (ended October 3) financial results, which included a revenue jump of 15% and a 13% boost to earnings per share.

American Italian, a company we looked at in March 2001, makes pastas of all kinds. Its handiwork is mainly sold as branded and private-label pastas distributed at grocery chains and club stores, though institutional sales to foodservice companies and governments add to the mix. (We looked at smaller competitor Monterey Pasta (NASDAQ:PSTA) back in September.)

A good product mix and brand acquisitions have helped American Italian increase profits and market share. Nonetheless, questions about its competitive position and the anti-carb movement prompted the company to be careful with its guidance for 2004.

Management expects to grow earnings and free cash flow as it concentrates on running the business it's built rather than building and acquiring more, but has widened its possible range of growth rates. (A renewed deal with institutional food and equipment supplier Sysco (NYSE:SYY), which in the past has accounted for a meaningful chunk of revenues, will surely help.)

The company pledges to provide more specific information about fiscal 2004 before Q1 ends. Until then, however, what's an investor to make of this?

The shares have pulled back slightly in the second half 2003, providing an opportunity. The company boasts a strong and improving financial position and a solid base on which to grow earnings and cash flow. Indeed, at less than 16 times trailing 12-month earnings, American Italian Pasta is looking better all the time.

Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at dmarnach@fool.com.