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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
Flavors like Roasted Jalapeno and Honey Smoked BBQ may be just what's needed to reinvigorate the nutrition bar market.
Meet the savory bar, the new kid on the nutrition bar block. Far from the chocolaty, fruity, or granola-y flavors of bars past, today’s sensations-Roasted JalapeÃ±o, Honey Smoked BBQ, even Pizza Marinara-pack a flavorful punch and are reinvigorating a tried-and-true category.
The appeal is simple: sometimes, consumers don’t want to eat something sweet. In fact, considering that many rely on nutrition bars as a grab-and-go meal, it makes good sense to offer options that feel more filling-a far cry from dessert.
That’s what today’s savory bar founders believe. Former Little League coach Danny Grossman, CEO of savory bar brand Slow Food for Fast Lives, describes how, as games ran over into dinnertime, he craved a nutrition bar that wasn’t sweet. “[I] did not want to snack on a glorified candy bar,” he says. But options were few. And so, working with his partners, Slow Food for Fast Lives was born earlier this year. The brand recognizes that while consumers manage hectic schedules and often eat on the run, they nevertheless want foods that are healthy, delicious, and let them pause, even for a brief moment, to “appreciate the experience of eating.” The company seeks inspiration from ethnic cuisine, serving up Thai, Moroccan, and Indian flavors reminiscent of a main course.
Marguarette Dau, chief marketing officer for the Journey Bar brand, talks about her team’s desire to offer consumers new options. “As avid travelers, we’ve eaten our fair share of nutrition bars because they’re so easy to carry and eat on the go. But we found that they were all the same sugary flavors that made me feel like I was eating candy, rather than a healthy snack. We thought, ‘Why not use natural flavors from herbs and spices to make more meal-like bars that you can have on the run?’”
New Energy for Bars
These next-generation bars may be just what’s needed to imbue the established category with new life. “Currently, the nutrition bar market is a $7 billion industry,” Grossman says. “So, while it is booming because of consumer appeal, the category runs the risk of [becoming] homogenous-seemingly many differences, but really none at all. This would likely spur the decline of the category….” Grossman estimates that only 7% of nutrition bars currently on the market have a non-sweet profile, “despite consumer demand for healthy snacks with lower sugar content,” and that only 11% of bars offer non-traditional flavors, “despite a 4.5% increase in ethnic-food grocery sales.” Clearly, there’s some innovating to be done.
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New Format, New Challenges
In breaking new ground, however, savory bar companies face their own obstacles. For instance, many savory bars eliminate sugar. This is great for consumers, who are repeatedly urged to cut their intake. The problem? Those sugars in conventional nutrition bars play a crucial role: holding the bar together.
“Savory bars are definitely more challenging to make,” says Dau. “You’ll find that the common element in sweeter bars are the syrups, which act as binding agents, flavor components, and natural preservatives. We had to find a binding ingredient that wasn’t sweet but that would hold everything together.” Baking the bars, she explains, also helped.
Shifting the ingredient paradigm also takes time, Grossman says. “For years, a massive industry has been creating virtually the same product. Everything in the system is geared towards basically the same ingredient profile, same shelf life, and same ingredient sourcing and storage. Finding a group that was willing to source kale, carrots, and sun-dried tomatoes and handle all the associated production loopholes was not easy, but we believed our product was worth the extra effort.”
Are Consumers Ready?
Most importantly, are consumers ready for the next generation? Admittedly, it takes some getting used to, all of the companies say.
“Consumers are willing, if not eager, to try our savory bars, and reception to the concept of a sweet-free bar is strong, with many people stating that they have been searching for such alternatives. So there is definitely a demand and a curiosity,” says Amotz Geshury, cofounder of Sheffa Foods, whose savory bar flavors include Rosemary, Sesame, and Spicy. “However, with the general population, there’s a bit of a psychological barrier to overcome. The shape and the word bar have really only been associated with something sweet.” Consumers, he says, only understand what the savory bar is about “after they put it in their mouth.”
Grossman agrees that some consumers will initially walk away. “We generally have to protest, ‘Wait! These are different! There’s at least one serving of vegetables in every bar!’ That usually gets them to turn around again,” he says.
“The biggest challenge for customers is re-calibrating their taste buds to expect savory over sweet,” agrees Anthony Krolczyk, director of marketing and sales at Omnibar, whose natural energy bars are made with grass-fed beef. His company’s bars, he says, “are not beef jerky; it’s a whole new category in the sports nutrition world.”
Curiosity has led to acceptance, according to Elle Lanning, senior director of communications for KIND bars, whose new Strong & KIND savory bar line launched this April. “We expected the flavors to pique curiosity due to their uniqueness, and we are happy to see the immediate positive response they’ve generated amongst those who have tasted it.”
Nutritional Outlook magazine
Photo courtesy of Slow Food for Fast Lives