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If you are a man, woman, senior citizen, athlete, or fan of Native American cuisine, there is a nutrition bar for you. And more bars are on the way.
If you are a man, woman, senior citizen, athlete, or fan of Native American cuisine, there is a nutrition bar for you. And more bars are on the way. In fact, market research firm Mintel (London) expects sales of nutrition bars to reach $982 million by 2011.
While sales appear to be following a strong upward trajectory, the curve is a bit misleading. Demand for nutrition bars surged during the early part of the decade. But the boom began to subside about three years ago after the low-carb market imploded. The growth rate dropped from a high of 18% during 2001–2006 to a more realistic 12.7% during 2004–2007, according to Mintel.
The list of nutrition bars enjoying auspicious debuts in 2007 is long and varied. Most are product line extensions that offer novel flavors. Many new items like Forward Foods LLC's (Minden, NV) new Detour Runner bar also contain ingredients selected to appeal to very specific types of consumers (see sidebar) as well as the general population.
CLASH OF THE TITANS
A Detour de Force
In elementary school, the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line. In the nutrition business, the shortest distance between an idea and success often involves a steep learning curve, and perhaps even a Detour.
Consumer demand for nutrition bars is still growing. But since the demise of the Atkins trend, demand has slackened, and retailers are wary of being caught with huge inventories they can't unload. So when Forward Foods LLC (Minden, NV) acquired the Detour bar business from Next Proteins (Carslbad, CA) in 2006, it knew some challenges lay ahead.
"In our mind, the nutrition bar category had gone slightly stagnant," says Forward Foods CEO Patrick Muldoon. Nutrition bars were in lots of households, yet the number of households buying bars wasn't increasing. Penetration has remained stuck at around 20%.
"When you've only got 21% of households participating in the category, there's still a lot of opportunity to get people involved," Muldoon says. He estimates that while about 150 million people exercise regularly, only 50–70 million buy nutrition bars.
Muldoon had a theory. "One of the real problems consumers have is that they are simply confused in the nutrition bar aisles," Muldoon says. "You've got so many different kinds of positioning: ingredient bars, protein bars, energy bars, athlete bars. But from the consumer's point of view, what's the difference?"
Reasoning that individual consumers participate in particular sports and have particular needs, the company decided to "just cut to the chase and come up with specific products with specific packaging," Muldoon says.
This fall, Forward Foods rolled out three new sports bars enriched with whey protein and ingredients intended to support distinct kinds of athletic activities. The Detour Runner bar contains MicroLactin, an ingredient comprised of micronutrients found in cow's milk that supports healthy joints. The Detour Biker bar contains the adaptogenic herb Rhodiola rosea, which enhances muscle stamina. The Detour Core Strength Bar contains ribose and whey protein to support muscle growth. Humanetics Corp. (Eden Prairie, MN) supplies the MicroLactin.
Muldoon says it took the company about five months to optimize the bar formulas at its production plant in Minden, NV. The company considered at least half a dozen active ingredients for the Detour Biker bar and three ingredients for the Runner bar. "It was hard to find the right size and taste and still deliver exactly what the consumer needed for that activity," Muldoon says, adding that the company also wanted to make sure that each bar met California school wellness guidelines.
To make the bars stand out on store shelves, Forward Foods streamlined the Detour labels and added bold graphics, avoiding overly wordy and descriptive copy. Each wrapper features an icon that designates the bar's intended purpose. "If you look at our packaging, you'll see that we've gone with a very simple package architecture," Muldoon says. "We just wanted pure simplicity, the least amount of description in the most amount of space."
The company also ramped up its outreach efforts by offering free samples at stores and working directly with running and biking clubs to educate consumers about the new bars. Flattening the consumer learning curve takes time and effort. But if you can change the category and give consumers more options for on-the-go nutrition, you've done a good thing, says Muldoon, who adds that he is "bullish" about the future of the nutrition bar category.
"For us, the nice thing about being so segmented is we have forced ourselves into a box, but at the same time, that box promotes clarity and consumer recognition," Muldoon says. "That specificity has its reward in both ways."
At this year's Natural Products Expo West show, held in March in Anaheim, CA, nutrition bar juggernaut Clif Bar and Co. (Berkeley, CA) launched dozens of new flavors in its Clif, Luna, and Clif Kid lines. Meanwhile, Clif competitor Balance Bar, which is owned by Kraft (Northfield, IL), unveiled new packaging, two new flavors, and a new certified-organic product line.
Clif's new offerings combined bakery-inspired concepts and indulgent flavors. Extensions to its flagship Clif line included maple nut, apple strudel, vanilla almond, and peanut butter pretzel, while its Luna women's line added berry almond and chocolate raspberry flavors. Clif also added a new honey-graham flavor to its kid-themed organic ZBar line. In addition, the company expanded its Nectar line of 100%-organic fruit and nut bars with a new cacao-flavored bar. Each Nectar bar contains six ingredients or less and provides 5 g of fiber.
In an attempt to appeal to picky natural products consumers, Balance reformulated its bars to eliminate high-fructose corn syrup. The company also decided to eschew traditional chocolate flavors in favor of savory and exotic tastes. Balance Bar's 2007 product extensions include three new sweet-and-salty Balance Bare Bars as well as a new trail-mix offering. The inaugural flavors of the new Balance Organic line are cherry almond crisp, cranberry pomegranate crisp, and apricot mango crisp. Both the Balance Bar and Balance Organic lines use see-through packaging to show off natural ingredients.
Another industry titan, NestlÃ©'s (Vevey, Switzerland) PowerBar, hiked its presence in the sports nutrition segment by reformulating the carbohydrate blend in its Performance sports bar and introducing the new Recovery bar in the fall. Recovery provides 12 g of protein, 8–10 g of fat, 180 mg of sodium, and 30 g of carbs. According to PowerBar, the carbs help replenish muscle-fueling glycogen, while the sodium replaces lost electrolytes.
THE WHOLE IS GREATER THAN THE PARTS
While Clif, Balance, and PowerBar continued to launch products aimed at the mass market and sports nutrition categories, other companies also launched products in 2007. Whole and raw foods, exotic fruits and vegetables, and specialty ingredients proved to be popular additions to many of the newest bars released this year.
Supported by the alliterative tagline 'Real is Revolutionary,' Pharmavite's (Northridge, CA) new SoyJoy bars boast whole soybeans and flavors like apple, berry, mango coconut, and raisin almond. Each bar has 130–140 calories, 4 g of protein, and 3 g of fiber, but none contains trans fat, artificial flavors or colors, or preservatives.
Ancient Sun Nutrition (Asheville, NC) took the whole-food concept one step further in 2007, launching a raw, organic, vegan, kosher, and gluten-free product called the WildBar. Sweetened with dark blue agave nectar, the bars have a low glycemic index and also contain blue-green algae extract, raw cacao, maca, and hemp seeds. In October, the company widened its appeal by emphasizing another theme important to natural products consumers: the environment. Ancient Sun's new point-of-sale (POS) displays are now made from Plyboo, a laminated, ecologically friendly bamboo material.
'We knew we had to find a green approach to POS because our company focus is sustainability,' Ancient Sun founder Clive Adams said on October 10. 'The look and feel of our display is in harmony with our customers in natural food stores across America.'
Two other new bars, the Think5 Bar from Thinkproducts (Ventura, CA) and Nature's Path's (Richmond, BC, Canada) Pure Fruit & Nut Bars, debuted in September at Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore. Think5, which bills itself as the first bar to offer five cups of fruits and vegetables per serving, contains apples, cranberries, spinach, and broccoli. Other ingredients, like acerola berries, sweet potatoes, brown rice, carrots, and alfalfa, round out the nutrients in Think5. Meanwhile, Nature's Path released the Pure Fruit & Nut Bars in collaboration with Andrew Weil, MD, under the Weil by Nature's Path brand name. The Weil bars feature novel ingredients like chia and goji berries.
SPECIALTY BARS TAKE THE LEAD
Manufacturers have offered bars targeted to different groups of people for most of the past decade. However, in recent years, marketing campaigns have become much more specific. Bars that once were targeted to women are now targeted to women who are expecting a baby; products once aimed at weekend warriors are now aimed at serious runners. As noted earlier, many of these products appeal both to the intended consumers and to consumers at large.
One example is NutraBella's (Palo Alto, CA) BellyBar, a line of bars created to meet the nutritional needs of women during all stages of pregnancy. In September, NutraBella announced that all of its bars now contain 50 mg of Martek's (Columbia, MD) Life'sDHA, a vegetarian source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Studies have shown that DHA is helpful for neurological development in children and cognitive health in adults. The bars also contain protein and other nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and folic acid.
September 2007 also marked the launch of the Tanka Bar, a product that seeks to replicate the flavor of the traditional Native American food pemmican. Marketed by Native American Natural Foods LLC (Kyle, SD), the bar contains buffalo meat and Wisconsin cranberries. Karlene Hunter and Mark Tilsen founded the company in 2005 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
'Tanka Bars don't taste medicinal or like a candy bar,' Hunter said on September 19. 'We're convinced that once people taste them, they'll choose pure meat-protein-based energy over 'enhanced' cereal bars any time.'
New Protein Ingredients Assist Bar Manufacturers
Protein is a key ingredient in most nutrition bars. However, various kinds of protein can strongly influence a bar's taste, texture, appearance, or consumer appeal. Moreover, the fluctuating costs of some protein-related commodities can be an important consideration.
ADM (Decatur, IL) and Solae (St. Louis) recently introduced three new protein ingredients that can be used as dairy protein alternatives. ADM's SmartBind wheat proteins, introduced this summer, are intended for use in nutrition bars, cereals, whole-grain baked goods, and other products to enhance taste and texture.
"SmartBind is a natural extension of ADM's existing line of proteins and protein isolate application expertise," according to Neal Bassi, director of sales, wheat starch and proteins, at ADM Milling.
Meanwhile, Solae's new ingredients, Supro Plus 9000 and 9040, are soy-based isolates that offer protein, fat, carb, and calcium profiles that are similar to milk. According to Solae senior director of global strategy Will Black, dairy commodity prices have more than doubled during the past year.
"Companies have relied on our soy protein products as effective alternatives to dairy products for many years," Black said on October 11. "The current market conditions are causing renewed interest in looking at soy protein for its economic advantages, including supply stability and price predictability, versus dairy proteins."