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Which healthy trends are dominating in nutrition bars?
At this year’s Natural Products Expo West trade show, KIND introduced extensions to its Nuts & Spices and Fruit & Nut lines, including Dark Chocolate Almond & Mint. “Available this spring, each of the new bars is made with whole nuts as the first ingredient,” the company announced. Photo from KIND.
There are signs that dynamic growth in nutrition bar launches in recent years may now be stabilizing, with the number of introductions falling back slightly in 2015. Even so, the number of global launches Innova Market Insights tracked in the 12 months ending October 2015 was still twice as high as the level of launch activity seen five years ago. The bottom line? Nutrition bars are still very popular, and their healthy image persists, despite some adverse publicity about the sugar content of some products. Above all, the “Big Four” still command nutrition bars: “free from,” clean labels, protein, and fiber.
Europe accounts for the highest number of bar launches overall (over 40% of the global total), but this is mainly because of the large number of countries involved. Adjusting for that, the United States dominates the market overall and accounts for over a quarter of global introductions; moreover, U.S. bar companies tend to lead in terms of product development, even in a relatively mature and complex market. The bar category today encompasses a wide range of products, including granola or muesli bars and breakfast bars, as well as nutrition, energy, and performance bars.
Despite concerns over how healthy some of the products actually are, consumers are still strongly interested in the health benefits bars have to offer. Well over 80% of global cereal bar introductions recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months ending October 2015 used a health positioning of some kind, rising to 92% in the United States. Just like the rest of the snack and food/drink market, clean-labelling concerns are a key focus, with over half of U.S. cereal bar launches using one or more claims relating to naturalness, freedom from additives/preservatives, and organic certification. Examples include General Mills’ two new Real Good Bars, part of its Food Should Taste Good range, made with nuts, seeds, fruit pieces, and spices, with no artificial ingredients or GMOs.
In the United States particularly, growing use of non-GMO certifications reflects rising concerns among consumers and is particularly strong in the cereals market, including cereal bars. Up to 46% of U.S. launches use GMO-free claims-over twice the global level.
Other, more traditional “free from” claims continue to work as well, with over half of U.S. launches featuring gluten-free claims. Interest in protein content is also rising, with “high in” and “source of” protein claims used on nearly 22% of global introductions, rising to over 40% in the United States. Recently, Manitoba Harvest extended its range of hemp-based protein products with three nutrition bars under the Hemp Heart Bar name. Mediterra introduced two high-protein savory snack bars in Bell Pepper/Green Olive and Kale/Pumpkin Seed flavors.
“High in” and “source of fiber” are also traditional claims but still strongly used in the bar market, on just over one-third of U.S. launches; “whole-grain” claims are used on just under one-fifth. General Mills extended its Fiber One range in October 2015 with its Cheesecake Bars in Salted Caramel and Strawberry flavors. The bars are said to combine the taste and texture of cheesecake, but in a guilt-free format.
Other emerging trends include the arrival of popped products in the savory bars sector, such as KIND Healthy Snacks’ Popped products, introduced last year, featuring six supergrains: amaranth, buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, and sorghum.
The cereal bars market seems set for further growth, with health and nutrition to remain a focus alongside other factors like a premium and indulgent image and unusual flavors and ingredients. Marketers will continue to find possibilities in the use of new ingredients and formats and targeting of new usage occasions.
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