Adding Versatility

by Staff
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Effects of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2005 Dietary Guidelines and mediasaturated calls for increased fruit and vegetable consumption continue to make an impact within the nutrition bar market. With suggestions that adult women consume 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 2.5 cups of vegetables and men eat 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables daily, bar manufacturers are creating products to make fruit and vegetable consumption even easier. Designed for convenience and adaptability, many bars now feature traditional fruits, exotic superfruits, vegetables and omega-3-rich nuts.

While nutrition bars may not be exactly what USDA envisioned in regard to increased fruit and vegetable consumption, consumers are enthusiastically responding to the newest generation of bars. Offerings with fruit are the third most popular flavor behind chocolate and peanut butter varieties in the performance/nutrition, energy and weight-management categories.

"If Americans were to fully meet the recommendations for fruit they would need to increase daily fruit consumption by 132%," according to Amber Waves, USDA’s Economic Research Service’s publication. It also estimated that additional demand would require US producers to more than double annual harvested fruit acreage from 3.5 million to 7.6 million.

While fruit inclusion in bars isn’t new, bar manufacturers attribute their current success to improved fruit flavor and the beneficial antioxidant qualities of superfruits. Superfruits are rich in nutrients, have high levels of antioxidants and, accordingly, have the potential to lower the risk of disease and/or illness, according to Mintel, a Chicago, IL-based research organization. The original superfruits, blueberries and cranberries, remain popular, but consumers are becoming increasingly familiar with once-exotic pomegranate, açai and goji. Other superfruits include red and black current, blackberry, mangostein, cloud berry, bilberry, lingonberry, dragon fruit, camu camu and acerola. Superfruits provide a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. "For the most part, inclusion of superfruits as ingredients is used to reinforce the existing functionality of these products, but its superfruit content makes it an even healthier product and enhances overall healthy positioning," according to Mintel’s Global New Product Database Superfruits report.

Lee Covert, vice-president, sales and supply chain of Elan Nutrition, attributes desire for fruit-based bars to an increased fresh fruit flavor as opposed to the processed fruit flavors of the past. Grand Rapids, MI-based Elan Nutrition began manufacturing fruit-based bars two years ago, and the company receives a high level of interest from contract marketers for its ability to produce fruit layer bars with antioxidant-rich superfruits.

"Bars are great vehicles for change because they can be re-engineered as trends emerge such as the reinvigorated demand for fruit," Mr. Covert said. "The nutrition bar lends itself very well to adapting to what the consumer is looking for."

Mr. Covert said contract marketers are specifically requesting the equivalent of a fruit serving in each bar. He attributed the increasing demand for fruit bars to the revamped food guide pyramid and 2005 dietary recommendations.

Diane Carnell, director of R&D applications at Kerry Ingredients & Flavours, New Century, KS, agreed that bars with fruit and vegetables are an excellent way for consumers to "get their colors" along with a healthy dose of fiber. Kerry manufactures extruded pieces, which often contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. It uses these pieces to help manufacturers obtain a crisp and crunchy texture for their bars. Through proprietary consumer research, Kerry discovered that the texture of bars is just as important to consumers as is taste and nutrition. Kerry’s R&D scientists can provide manufacturers fruit with different textures again via the company’s extrusion technology, by integrating fruit or vegetable powders and purees. Kerry’s Crystals products are flavor-intensified blends of real fruit juices and natural oils. Use of Crystals together with fruit containing crisps can create bars with at least a serving of fruit. Protein and texture can also be added from many sources including soy, dairy, pea, potato, oat, wheat and rice, with dairy, rice and soy being most commonly used for bars.

A March executive summary on nutrition and energy bars from Mintel found that among the 86% of bar-eating respondents who select bars based on health or health and taste attributes, high protein and vitamin/mineral fortification are the most important health-related product attributes. Approximately one-third agreed with the statement, "I think of nutrition and energy bars as a daily vitamin."

However, consumers ask for more than just nutri- ents from their food. The emotional component of what the food brings to the eating occasion can also be a source of nourishment. This particular theme played a role in the naming of thinkFruit bars from Ventura, CA-based thinkproducts. Available in Apple Noni Nourish, Cashew Açai Protect, Chocolate Pomegranate Power and Peanut Goji Glow varieties, the bars were named to reflect the functional component of each superfruit. The no-sugar-added bars contain antioxidant-rich noni, açai, goji and pomegranate and proteinand omega-3-rich nuts. Fruit and vegetables are also a component of the company’s thinkOrganic fruit and nut, thinkGreen superfood and think5 fruit and vegetable bars.

"I believe people who have an emotional connection to food look for functionality in their food," said Lizanne Falsetto, c.e.o., thinkproducts. "People are becoming more aware of fruits and vegetables and the right dosages of each. Pure foods give long life, and because these bars are easy to consume on the go, consumers don’t have to pass on fruits and vegetables."

. While more adults are making an effort to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, children remain a difficult sell. Phil Molina, marketing manager, Kerry Ingredients & Flavours, said product development for children is a complex equation. "First you have to get the product into the cart, passing the ‘mom test,’ but once it’s home, the child has to actually like it to generate any repeat," Mr. Molina said.

To increase chances of success with its new children’s product, Clif Kids, a division of Clif Bar & Co., Berkeley, CA, worked with a group of children to determine the fruit flavors they liked best. As a result of the input and collaboration, new Apple Cinnamon and Blueberry varieties were added to the Clif Kid Organic ZBar line.

"Most kids fall short of the recommended two to four servings of fruit per day," said Karen Jobb, director of Clif Kid brands. "Making healthy, on-the-go snacks made from real organic fruit is just half the battle. If it doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t matter how nutritious it is, they won’t eat it."

The baked whole-grain bars contain organic rolled oats, milled flaxseed and oat flour. Used in school vending machines, the ZBar was rated No. 1 among healthy vending machine snacks by the Snackwise Nutrition system, which rates snack food by nutrient density to help schools make vending machine choices. ZBars were also recommended on a number of healthy-eating Web sites as a nutritious trick-or-treat snack.

On Track fruit bars from Fresno, CA-based Bouquet of Fruits were created by chocolatier and food scientist Guy Debbas in response to rising rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes, especially among children. Partnering with Kingsburg, CA-based Kingsburg Orchard in the San Joaquin Valley, Bouquet of Fruits created On Track bars made with dried fruit, oats and almonds. The raw bars contain one serving of fruit and are a natural source of vitamins A and C. Bouquet of Fruits is a signatory company with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation initiative, a partnership between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation. Each bar meets the competitive food guidelines for children in elementary, middle and high school.

"We feel that it is important to give customers something that tastes good and is healthy at the same time," Mr. Debbas said. "If we declare that our products are healthy, we need to make sure we do not deceive the customer."

Recognizing trends for transparency in labeling and healthier lifestyle choices, NuGo Nutrition, Pittsburgh, PA, makes nutrition education about its products a priority through face-to-face time with consumers at in-store samplings and events. "Transparency and honesty in labeling will only continue to increase in importance," said David Levine, c.e.o., NuGo Nutrition.

During these educational opportunities, NuGo employees highlight fruit’s high fiber content and how fruit and other natural sweeteners can replace sugar and highfructose corn syrup. NuGo’s uncoated Keribar, available in Cherry Almond, Apple Peanut Butter and Strawberry Chocolate Chip varieties, contains whole fruit and fruit pieces. The company’s NuGo Organic line contains a Dark Chocolate Pomegranate bar made with organic chocolate, sour cherries and pomegranate.

Clif Bar also profiled organic chocolate and fruit in its Clif Nectar Cacao bar. The Dark Chocolate Mocha, Dark Chocolate Walnut and Dark Chocolate Raspberry varieties are made with fruit, nuts and organic dark chocolate sourced from Fair Trade cooperatives in South America and the Caribbean.

"We wanted to enter the world of specialty chocolate while keeping true to our commitment of providing healthy food for busy people," said Jennifer Yun, brand manager, Clif Nectar. "Clif Nectar Cacao ingredients are 100% organic, and that means grown in harmony with nature. And we believe that this approach, ultimately, creates greater pleasure to the palate."

The Clif Nectar line, which also includes Cherry Pomegranate, Cinnamon Pecan, Cranberry Apricot & Almond and Lemon Vanilla & Cashew varieties, provides two servings of fruit in every bar. The cherries and pomegranates used in the bars contain antioxidants and phytonutrients believed to decrease the risk of some chronic diseases, according to Tara DelloIacono-Thiess, RD, nutrition strategist for Clif Bar.

Whether consumers are looking to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables or just looking to make onthe-go eating easier, bars manufacturers will continue to innovate, making consumer desires and better-for-you ingredients center stage in new product releases.

"Fruit is a trend that’s going to continue to gain momentum," Kerry’s Mr. Molina said. "When we can integrate foods people enjoy into their lifestyle along with positive attributes such as antioxidant and fiber ingredients, those products will be winners."

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