How nutrition bar manufacturers are competing in a crowded marketplace

December 2, 2020
Sebastian Krawiec

Nutritional Outlook, Nutritional Outlook Vol. 23 No. 8, Volume 23, Issue 8

Bar manufacturers are working hard to compete in a crowded marketplace by improving formulas, launching new flavors, and meeting consumer demands such as reduced sugar.

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that everybody eats bars in some form, and there is no shortage of options available to consumers. For manufacturers, this means competing in a very crowded marketplace.

It’s Getting Competitive in Here

A good example of how brands are fighting for the hearts and minds of the public is a recent battle between two bar titans: Clif Bar & Company and Kind LLC.

This fight saw a challenge issued by Clif Bar against KIND for claiming in a commercial that KIND bars contain 75% less sugar than the leading Clif bar. The commercial depicted a comparison between Clif’s bestselling Clif Chocolate Chip bar (20 g of sugar) and KIND Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt Bar (5 g of sugar). In this case, which went to the National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs, KIND won. NAD said the claim was accurate, but also recommended that KIND modify the commercial so that consumers understand that the comparison only applies to the specific products depicted. On the whole, NAD found the commercial to be reasonable and not falsely disparaging.

Given the level of saturation taking place in the category, though, it is unsurprising that Clif took measures to ensure the brand’s integrity remains intact. So many brands are doing their best to differentiate themselves from the competition and excel.

Standing Out

How can a bar brand differentiate itself today? One company, Built Bar, provides some examples of what bar brands are doing to compete. After two years on the market, Built Bar recently announced a rebrand that included a new look to its product line as well as improved texture of its bars, new flavors, and new additions to the product portfolio.

“The rebrand came at a time when we began recognizing opportunities to improve and evolve with the industry, our target market, and production. We recognized a need to evolve the aesthetic of our branding, and there was also an opportunity to yield customer feedback and introduce certain permanent flavors into our flavor offerings,” says Nick Greer, cofounder and CEO of Built Brands. “We had production [improvement] opportunities due to our previous equipment that caused more inconsistencies in the bar-making process. This process—the implementation of the new aesthetic, new production equipment, and new flavors—has made our bar more delicious and desirable than ever before.”

Of course, texture is not the only kind of improvement bar brands are actively seeking. “Most of the improvements we’re currently seeing revolve around ingredient removal,” says Chad Rieschl, senior research food technologist for ingredient supplier Cargill (Minneapolis, MN). “In addition to sugar reduction, some brands are moving away from dairy ingredients and allergens, with some even opting for grain-free formulations.”

This creates challenges in areas such as texture and flavor; luckily, creative solutions exist that can help brands meet multiple consumer demands. For example, according to new consumer research from Cargill, besides protein content, fiber content is a major attribute consumers look for in bar products. When asked to rank top snack bar attributes, 72% of respondents said they were very likely to purchase bars high in protein, 68% said they were very likely to purchase bars containing protein, and 57% said they were very likely to purchase bars containing fiber.

When it comes to attributes consumers want to avoid, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and sugar rank among the top. Ingredient suppliers are looking for better replacements for such ingredients, including chicory root fiber, which Cargill offers. “Many times, we turn to ingredients like chicory root fiber to replace syrups and other sugar-containing ingredients. As a result, the use of fiber in snack bars is increasing—but the emphasis is more on sugar reduction than fiber fortification,” Rieschl explains.

He highlights another growing development. “One of the biggest trends we’re seeing in the protein snack bar space is the move away from animal- and allergen-based proteins toward more plant-based options,” he continues. “As part of these new formulas, many fiber-containing ingredients are being used. Therefore, you may see many new bars that are high in protein and fiber as formulators use combinations of both groups of ingredients to produce bars with a favorable flavor and texture.”

While the bar space is competitive, the good thing is that its size allows for a broad and diverse consumer base, so you’re not all competing for the same customers, necessarily. However, as consumer preferences change, and more competitors enter the market, brand owners need to be nimble and adapt when necessary.

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