Convenience and nutrition were the driving forces behind the athletic performance bar category when it was first introduced in the 1980s, and they continue to be prevalent today. However, taste, indulgence and dieting trends are also key elements for today’s energy/nutrition bars, and the category is rapidly growing with a frenzy of new products being introduced.
The energy bar category continues to experience double-digit sales growth, great news for any food category but especially welcome for grain-based foods, which have been taking a beating in large part because of low-carbohydrate diets. Sales in the energy/nutrition bar category surpassed $675 million last year, according to Information Resources, Inc., Chicago, IL, which tracks sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers excluding Wal-Mart.
However, Nutrition Business Journal in its May/June 2003 issue placed annual sales at $1.8 billion, according to Staci Grovsky, vicepresident of sales and marketing for Powermax Nutrition, Inc., Concord, CA. Although, she said she doesn’t think sales are quite that high. Instead, Ms. Grovsky said she believes IRI tracks only about half of the sales in the category. Additional sales not captured by IRI occur at health food stores, gyms, the Internet and Wal-Mart, which accounts for up to 30% of sales for Slim-Fast Food Co., West Palm Beach, FL.
Nutrition/energy bars can be divided into several categories. Vanessa Wagar, manager of corporate communications and brand affairs for PowerBar, Inc., Berkeley, CA, said the company, which created the category, divides the market into three subcategories: athletic performance bars, nutritious snacking bars and weight management or women’s wellness. Other segments within the energy/nutrition bar category could also be delineated such as highcarbohydrate, high-protein bars and 40/30/30, which is the ratio of carbohydrates, protein and fat prescribed by the popular Zone diet.
Balance Bar Co., Rye Brook, NY, and ZonePerfect, Beverly, MA (recently acquired by Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, IL), both produce 40/30/30 bars. In fact, ZonePerfect nutritional bars had the highest unit sales during the past year, according to IRI, selling more than 30 million units in outlets monitored by IRI.
The top-selling bar dollarwise, according to IRI, was a low-carb bar.
LOW-CARB DOMINATION. Writing a food marketing article without considering low-carb products would be like playing darts without tips — it’s most likely going to miss the target. To no one’s suprise, low- carb products have dominated the nutrition/energy bar category over the past year.
Sales of Atkins Diet Advantage bars, marketed by Atkins Nutritionals, Inc., New York, NY, increased 90.9% in the 52 weeks ending Dec.28,2003,making it the top-selling nutritional bar based on dollar sales. Similarly, Atkins had two other bars with sales that grew at an even faster pace during the same 52-week period. Atkins Endulge, the eighth best-selling nutritional bar, saw its sales jump 717.4%, while Atkins Advantage, the 14th top-selling bar, experienced a whopping 965.6% increase during the past year.
Sales of Slim-Fast Meal-On-The-Go bars, which had been the topselling nutrition bar, dropped 27.6% and into the second slot, according to IRI data. However, its Meal Options bar grew by 249%, into the No. 12 position. The company recently introduced Meal Bars and Snack Bars for a Low-Carb Lifestyle.
Slim-Fast is not the only company reacting to the growing sales generated by low-carb bars. PowerBar, Promax and Clif Bar, Inc., also based in Berkeley, CA, recently launched their first low-carb bars. "We waited it out a little to see if it was just going to be a quick blip or if it was going to be a trend with staying power," Ms. Wagar said of the low-carb phenomenon. "While a large majority of consumers may not be following a low-carb diet in the strict sense, it has seeped into the public nutritional consciousness that you monitor your carbs just like you monitor your fat intake."
Earlier this year, PowerBar began selling Carb Select bars, which contain only 2 g of impact carbohydrates. The low-carb bars are available in both the Pria and ProteinPlus brands, which are specifically formulated for women and men, respectively.
"Impact," or "net," carbs are terms developed directly in reference to low-carb diets and emerged from the understanding that not all carbohydrates increase the glycemic index. "The whole goal with low-carb product is you don’t want to spike your blood sugar, and sugar alcohols (polyols) allow you to keep blood sugar under control," said Ms. Wagar. Impact, or net, carbs are calculated by subtracting fiber and polyols from the total carbohydrates.
Additionally, PowerBar completed research in July 2003 to determine what men and women desired most in carb-control bars. Women wanted foods that tasted indulgent, were low in calories and sized appropriately for snacking with added nutritional fortification. Pria Carb Select bars are available in three flavors Cookies N’ Caramel, Peanut Butter Caramel Nut and Caramel Nut Brownie, and they tested well against other low-carb and nutrition bars aimed at women in regard to taste, Ms. Wagar said.
In contrast, she said that men were not as concerned about taste. Instead, they wanted a low-carb product that delivered protein and a lot of calories to satisfy their hunger. ProteinPlus Carb Select bars have 270 Cal and weigh 70 g.
"Even though the Atkins diet and other low-carb diets have been around since the 1970s, you never know when something is going to tip, and I would say that trend really tipped in 2003," said Yana Kusher, brand director of Luna Bar, a subsidiary of Clif Bar. "The real explosion of products will occur this year."
Luna Glow is the company’s first low-carb product, and the bars have between 2 g and 3 g of net carbs. Promax introduced Carb Conscious bars in January, and they have 2 g to 3 g of net carbs. The bars also have 22 g of protein, because high protein is something the company has always tried to deliver in its bars, according to Ms. Grovsky.
TASTES GREAT. To establish a loyal relationship with consumers and to ensure future purchases, companies are focusing on taste. "The aspect that differentiates Promax from other bar brands is that it tastes very, very good," Ms. Grovsky said. "And it has a decent level of protein.
"A lot of times what happens is the more protein you put in a bar, the tougher it is in regard to texture and taste," she continued. "But we founded this bar on taste and nutrition, and it’s still positioned that way today."
Promax’s original energy bar is available in 13 varieties, including two new flavors: Nutter Butter Crisp and Black Forest Cake. "We don’t want to have just another version of a chocolate energy bar," Ms. Grovsky said."We want a product that is going to taste fabulous."
Caramel Craze. This is the hot new flavor trend in energy bars, especially for women. "With the Pria bar, we see a lot of caramel because women are really interested in that," Ms. Wagar said.
Luna also has had great success with two new caramel-flavored bars it introduced late in 2003, Caramel Apple and Dulce de Leche. Ms. Kushner said that the company’s caramel also is completely unlike any other because is nondairy caramel. All original Luna energy bars were dairy-free and wheat-free; therefore, the company created a caramel without cream, she said. A dairy caramel is used in its Luna Glow bars, which are the company’s low-carb products. "Besides tasting great, we wanted Luna Glow to be innovative with its texture," Ms. Kushner said."A lot of the bars are hard and dense and difficult to chew. What we created is light and fluffy and very much like a candy bar."
Luna’s original energy bars are available in 16 different varieties, including such innovative flavors as Chai Tea and LemonZest.
Clif Bar, Luna’s parent company, was conceived in the early 1990s with the idea of developing an energy bar that tasted good. Founder Gary Erickson recounted the company’s beginnings on its Web site: "The inspiration to create an energy bar occurred during a day-long, 175-mile bike ride with my buddy Jay. We’d been gnawing on some ‘other’ energy bars all day. Suddenly, despite my hunger, I couldn’t take another bite. I thought, ‘I could make a better bar than this!’ That’s the moment I now call ‘the epiphany.’
"Two years later, after countless hours in Mom’s kitchen, the Clif Bar became a reality," the story continued. "And the mission to create a better-tasting energy bar was accomplished."
Clif Bar features 13 flavors in its lineup of energy bars, according to Betty Bredemann, brand manager of Clif Bar. "Our bars not only deliver the health benefits of oats and soy but deliver it in a great tasting way."
Three new Clif Bar flavors were introduced this past year — Black Cherry Almond, Lemon Poppyseed and Peanut Toffee Buzz — and all have risen to the top of the company’s list of best-selling flavors, noted Ms. Bredemann. "I think consumers are continuing to look for innovations in flavor and taste, and we hope we are delivering that," she said.
A little salty. The majority of the nutritional bars that are available feature sweet flavors, but consumers don’t always desire something sweet. Therefore, Clif Bar introduced Mojo Bar snack bars, which Dean Mayer, the company’s communications manager, said is the first "salty and sweet" snack bar in the category. Mojo Bars have pretzel pieces and whole roasted peanuts."It is representative of the innovation going on in the category," he said.
PERFORMANCE LOADED. While the low-carb craze may have prompted some products to reposition themselves, others are sticking to their guns and delivering the nutrition that put them into the market.
"What Clif Bar (the energy bar) has stood for and continues to deliver is carbohydrates for sustained energy," Ms. Bredemann said."For individuals who lead an active lifestyle, carbohydrates are something they need. And this is a great source of the sustained energy in a healthy bar."
Ms. Wagar said Power Bar is constantly working to improve its taste, but athletes are not concerned about indulgence. "Above all, the bar is a tool to help increase their athletic performance," she said.
Another feature that has always made energy bars a successful product is convenience, and Ms. Wagar noted it as the No. 1 driving force in the energy bar category. "People lead such mobile lifestyles they need something like PowerBar that is easily packed and portable," she said.
Ms. Bredemann concurred. "First and foremost, Clif Bar is for someone on the go who is on a long bike ride or hiking and is looking for something they can throw in their backpack and know it is going to last for however long the trip is, and it doesn’t need to be refrigerated."