With the low-carb revolution well on its way out, bar manufacturers have tuned into what consumers want in their nutrition, energy or granola bars — this year, healthy choice tops the list. Consumers want an all-natural, healthy snack option. They want portability, and they want something that tastes good. And manufacturers say that’s not too much to ask.
This desire is being echoed by new dietary guidelines, which, among other things, suggest that Americans should eat more fruits and vegetables. By offering bars made with fresh fruits and healthy ingredients, bar makers are making this a bit easier.
LETTING IT ALL HANG OUT. When it comes to bars, all-natural is the way to go. According to Kerry Americas, Beloit, WI, natural and organic ingredients are becoming more prevalent as consumers express concern with chemical additives. The company’s research shows that 30% of energy bar purchasers said that a product with a natural/ organic claim is important in his or her buying decision.
David Neuman, vice-president of sales and marketing for Nature’s Path, Richmond, BC, sees this trend, too. "Consumers aren’t looking for something with added nutrients in it, like supplements. They believe they can get enough of that with vitamins and a balanced diet. Instead, they are looking for a nice snack, which is indicative of the whole low-carb crash," he said. According to Mr. Neuman, sales of snack bars are up 16.8% this year. He said that organic options are the primary driver for this growth.
Nature’s Path is focusing on the whole foods concept. When the company entered the bar category a few years ago, its focus was on cereal bars. "We thought it was natural for a cereal company to make a cereal bar," he said. But when its EnviroKidz bar became the No. 1 snack bar in the natural, organic category, Nature’s Path was inspired to look at what else it could do in that arena.
In March, it answered its query with the launch of Optimum Energy Bars, the first USDA-certified-organic energy bar. Each 2-oz bar is packed with protein, fiber and carbohydrates. The bars are low in fat and sodium and include omega-3 fatty acids and lignans from organic flax, heart-healthy fiber from organic oat bran, amino acids from organic soy protein and phytonutrients and bioflavonoids from organic fruit.
Steve Grossman, senior director of brands for Clif Bar, Berkeley, CA, said that the company has just launched Clif Nectar, a 100%-organic fruit and nut bar. Each bar consists of only four ingredients, which he said are all recognizable. He mentioned the USDA guidelines and said that each bar contains the equivalent of two servings of fruit. Clif Nectar bars come in cinnamon pecan, lemon vanilla cashew, dark chocolate walnut and cranberry apricot almond flavors.
Luna, a branch of Clif Bar, reduced the sugar content in its bars by 25% and increased fiber by 30%, all things that support the company’s research, according to Kristel Cerna, director of marketing for the Luna brand. "When the USDA guidelines were released, they supported what we had already seen. They recommended reducing sugar intake and eating the right kind of carbs," she said. Luna is the first women’s nutrition bar on the market and is made with all-natural ingredients.
At PowerBar, Berkeley, CA, balanced nutrition is also of utmost importance. New this year is the Pria Complete Nutrition line, PowerBar’s answer to women’s nutrition bars. The line includes bars that are a good source of calcium, have less sugar, lower calories and are high in fiber.
ENERGY FOR LIFE. Energy bar manufacturers know that athletes need fuel during workouts. But they also think that everyone could use an extra kick — something to get them through the daily grind. That’s why Clif Bar introduced Clif Builders last year with the tag line, "When work feels like a workout."
"We didn’t want to make a bar exclusively for people working out because everyone needs protein," Mr. Grossman said. Clif Builders, which he said tastes like a candy bar, are for people who work with their hands, people who are building buildings. "When you think about how to brand something, you look at the competition. Most bars are geared toward the muscle-building gym person. But there are so many things people do where they need protein. Thirty to 40% of your daily intake is supposed to be protein," he said.
Luna is following the same trend. "Our bars are a snack to keep women energized to complete their goals between meals," Ms. Cerna said. Luna bars are targeted toward women who are craving something but don’t want to consume tons of calories. Each Luna bar contains 180 Cal.
Though a niche does exist for providing energy as fuel for life, the workout energy bar category hasn’t fallen to the wayside. PowerBar sees the desire to increase athletic performance as one of the market drivers.
In the mid-1980s, PowerBar’s Performance bar created this category. According to Vanessa Wagar, PowerBar’s corporate communications manager, there is still a need for bars and products designed to enhance athletic performance through proper nutrition and energy.
TASTE TEST. No amount of nutritious ingredients can make up for bad taste. And when a bar is packed with things like soy protein and fiber, it could potentially have an off taste. That’s why bar manufacturers are raising the taste standard and will settle for nothing less than delicious.
Mr. Neuman said that adults prefer fruit flavors. "Kids are not big fans of fruit in food like bars and cereals. They like fresh fruit. Adults like fruit in bars because they understand the healthfulness of it and they appreciate the taste," he said.
Kerry America’s research shows that 80% of female consumers over 35 said that "made with real fruit" is an important label claim.
Currently, Nature’s Path has two fruit flavors in its energy bar line — cranberry with a hint of ginger and blueberry cinnamon. Mr. Neuman said that by adding fruit to bars, consumers get the taste they’re craving along with healthful benefits.
Nature’s Path’s kids line, EnviroKidz, is also a tasty treat. But just because it tastes good doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy. The bars were modeled after Rice Krispy Treats. They’re a reengineered version without marshmallow. "Ours are gooey, have a nice pull to them and have a great mouthfeel," he said.
Researchers at Luna Bar found that women want a treat without guilt. So, the company has added three flavors that it considers "comfort food" flavors — cookies from childhood. New flavors hit shelves June 1 and include peanut butter cookie, iced oatmeal raisin and cookies and cream.
Clif Bar has added cinnamon raisin walnut to its repertoir of flavors. "Things in the cookie arena work well. We played around with this in the kitchen and added walnuts, which made it surprisingly delicious," Mr. Grossman said. Just a few months after its launch, this new flavor is near the top at Clif Bar.
Clif also reintroduced its Mojo bars. "When we first introduced them, the flavors were probably a bit too exotic. Now, they come in flavors that people can be interested in," he said. Mojo bars are savory bars with the taste profile that includes a balance of pretzels, nuts and fruit. Mr. Grossman said these bars are doing well.
WEIGHING IN. PowerBar’s research shows that people are still using bars to help with weight management. And Clif Bar sees childhood obesity concerns as a growing market driver. As an answer to this drive, Clif introduced Clif Z BaR, which is designed to meet restricted school guidelines, limiting the amounts of fat and sugar in products.
"These are organic energy bars for kids that promote being active and healthy eating," Mr. Grossman said.
Ms. Wagar said that weight management concerns were a driving force behind last year’s sales at PowerBar. She said that PowerBar continues to see success with its line of low-carb bars and carbconscious bars.
Researchers with Kerry Americas found that 80% of their respon- dents are eating one to two energy bars per week as a healthy snack and that bars with managed sugar and a low glycemic index positioning are important factors to consumers who seek to address obesity and diet trends.
PACKAGED TO SELL. Packaging is a bar’s key selling tool. However, manufacturers have to pack a lot of information in a little space. So, it’s important for them to figure out the key selling points of their bars.
Along with the product reformulation, packaging at Luna Bar has undergone a facelift. "The new, brighter packaging calls out the more fiber and less sugar," Ms. Cerna said.
Nature’s Paths’ EnviroKidz bars come in a box, giving the company a larger packaging platform. But the company’s energy bars, for example, only have a wrapper. "We do force a lot of information onto the wrappers," Mr. Neuman said.
He said that designers at Nature’s Path are mindful of color and make sure to never put a claim on the packaging that is not true. The company also cross markets its bars with its cereal. And though the company is concerned with waste, freshness is important. Mr. Neuman said that the only packaging option right now is to use high-barrier Mylar, a polyester film, which keeps bars fresh. But he said that finding a recyclable option for bar packaging is a challenge that the bar industry needs to address in the next few years.
Good marketing in a category such as bars is essential. Because with each year, consumer trends seem to change and bar manufacturers are quick to follow lest they be left behind.