As economic belts tighten, bar manufacturers are focusing operations tooffer product introductions addressing the newest ebb and flow of consumer desire. No longer content to eat bars that offer only empty calories, consumers are choosing bars based on flavor and taste and those with understandable nutritional attributes.
From ingredients to graphics and marketing, a less-ismore approach is proving successful. In the current economic environment, simplification has become the newest consumer catchphrase, closely followed by sustainability and corporate responsibility. The trend of simplicity is especially evident in the back-to-basics approach of products that call out a primary health benefit. This is also coupled with a backlash against gratuitous front-of-the-box claims that have left consumers looking for easy-to-understand ingredients and provable health benefits.
OLD SCHOOL. Fiber is one of the strongest functional food rediscoveries. A new generation of consumers is searching out fiber, long touted for its digestive benefits, for its additional attributes of weight loss and heart health.
Gnu Foods, New York, NY, produces Flavor & Fiber bars, one of the first commercial high-fiber bars. Initially created for the founder’s toddler, the bar found a niche as a healthy snack. As the product usage spread in the marketplace, consumers shared with Gnu Foods that they were using the bars for satiety. The kosher and vegan bars contain 8 to 9 g of soluble fiber and 8 to 9 g insoluble fiber. "Fiber has so many benefits, and it helps with so many issues that I like to think of it as the ‘new black,’" said Robyn Kasler, sales and marketing, Gnu Foods. Gnu Foods has found great success with its fun, cartoonbased branding. "Our packaging and branding have allowed us to cut through the clutter in the bar category," Ms. Kasler said. The company has grown through a word-of-mouth (WOM) network of grassroots advertising and does not do any formal advertising. Its loyal online consumers are frequently surveyed on how the company is doing and are asked to comment on new flavor extensions. "We closely follow what’s being said about us in the blogosphere, and we’ve found that consumers are passionate about our brand," she continued.
In an economy where trust is crucial, WOM is one way a once-niche message can go mainstream. General Mills, Minneapolis, MN, continues to convert mainstream consumers to increased fiber consumption with its Fiber One brand. According to Mintel, a Chicago, IL-based research organization, the popularity of Fiber One bars in 2007 contributed to the 10.8% sales growth in bars.
The success of the Fiber One brand has also led to competing products that "one-up" single benefits such as fiber with the addition of omega-3 and/or protein. Quaker, Chicago, IL, offers Fiber & Omega-3 Chewy Oat granola bars, and The Kashi Co., La Jolla, CA, recently launched TLC Dark Mocha Almond Chewy Granola bars with 4 g of fiber and 6 g of protein.
"The gap between the perceived importance of healthy eating and one’s actual diet is important because it represents an opportunity for forward-thinking manufacturers and retailers," according to Mintel’s "Attitudes Toward Food: Weight & Diets" report.
This summer, Luna, a division of Clif Bar & Co., Berkeley, CA, unveiled a new bar for women featuring added vitamin D to support calcium absorption and promote bone health. The low-glycemic bars also include antioxidants, fiber and protein.
TAKING STOCK. Mintel stated that important attitudinal changes such as increased concern about adequate fiber intake and greater interest in eating a well-balanced diet often happen during people’s late 20s and early 30s.
According to ingredient manufacturer Tate & Lyle, 77% of consumers believe that an excellent source of fiber (5 g per serving) is appealing. But the fiber source must not create adverse digestive side effects, according to Joni Simms, associate director, technical services, Tate & Lyle, Decatur, IL. With 2 Cal per gram, Tate & Lyle’s Promitor soluble corn fiber allows manufacturers to reduce calories while adding to the product’s fiber content.
"Consumers have active lifestyles, and they are pressed for time," Ms. Simms said. "However, they are also very conscious of healthy eating, and nutrition bars that are high in fiber and lower in sugar and calories allow them to eat healthier foods on the go."
But don’t let a great product languish with the wrong audience. The depth of callouts used on the package can send different messages to different consumers, according to Melissa Abbott, trends and culinary insights manager, The Hartman Group, Bellevue, WA.
"If it’s a forward-leaning health-and-wellness consumer, they would be looking for a bar with more than simply ‘high in fiber’ and may be seeking ‘high in omega-3s’ (not so much on the plant sterols, which seems to be too sciencebased [for consumers]) or ‘rich in calcium and vitamin D,’" she said. "The less-involved health-and-wellness consumer will be more inclined to grab a bar calling out high in fiber, because they feel they should be getting more. Those less-involved consumers are not as interested in the origin of the ingredient either, because they are less inclined to read ingredient lists and rely more on nutrition panels."
In the oversaturated bar market, it’s becoming increasingly important that manufacturers differentiate themselves from the competition. This is especially true as grocery retailers reduce extraneous SKUs to make room for private-label offerings, as reported in the Wall Street Journal of June 26. Aristo Health, Inc., Morristown, NJ, targets forward-leaning consumers previously described by Ms. Abbott.
"The economy has forced a realization among manufacturers that it makes sense to narrow and consolidate your offerings to make it better for the consumer," said Gursh Bindra, PhD, c.e.o., Aristo Health.
Launched in 2007, Aristo Health Wellness bars contain omega-3s, phyto-sterols, antioxidants and a proprietary blend of wellness ingredients designed to create a synergistic health benefit. "This is a bar that can be consumed on a regular basis, and people can enjoy both the eating experience and reap a health benefit at the same time," said Dr. Bindra, who earned a PhD in nutrition. "People want more nutritional value in the foods they are eating, and they aren’t looking for products that provide empty calories."
TASTE SUPREME. A healthier alternative and great taste were the building blocks of the 12-grain artisan bar from Full Bloom Baking Co., Newark, CA. The bar, a hybrid of a cookie and an energy bar, was created for Peet’s Coffee & Tea, a West Coast chain. The customer specified a savory alternative to traditional pastries with a dense profile and no more than 350 Cal. Full Bloom has since released company-branded Toasted Oatmeal and Cranberry Almond bars made with ancient grains, and future line extensions will include Bacon Cornflake and Seeded White Cheddar Asiago bars.
"We are finding that people want great taste, but they still want the product to be healthy," said Frankie Whitman, vice-president of marketing, Full Bloom Baking Co. "They want to feel good about eating the product and are reading ingredient labels and shying away from anything unnatural, but interest in taste remains foremost."
The tradeoff between great taste and healthy ingredients becomes negotiable as people grow older, but for children there’s no exception — taste remains supreme. Mintel’s June Healthy Snacking US report said that snacks children ask for or want to eat are just as important as any one nutritional benefit to moms. Hence, pester power may remain the ultimate form of marketing.
Organic Nutrition, Carlsbad, CA, initially marketed its organic Jungle Grub snack bars toward children but soon discovered two crossover markets — moms who enjoyed the 100-Cal bars and celiac consumers who could consume the gluten-free bars. Despite the expanded markets, the company has kept children as its test market. Through test marketing, the company discovered that the level of chewiness in the product can affect whether children like it or not. Armed with this knowledge, OrganicNutrition worked to create a bar that appealed to children while also addressing the role chewing plays in satiety. "Our goal in developing the product is to get people to feel full, but kids will have the final say on how it tastes," said Steven Brandt, president, OrganicNutrition.
PROLONGED SUCCESS. Dr. Bindra of Aristo Health predicted future consumers would move away from a fixation on one ingredient for a more balanced approach. "As society evolves, there will be a gradual evolution of the nutritional content of these bars," Dr. Bindra said. "Those manufacturers that don’t respond to consumer needs won’t be there, and those that do respond will expand and gain market share."