According to IRI definitions, sales of health/nutrition bars soared 9.7% - or more than $250m - in 2015 [52 weeks ending 27 December 2015]. They drove much of the growth in the overall snack bars category, with sales of breakfast bars and granola bars virtually static.
And while no-one has given up on the other parts of the market – only this week PepsiCo announced the launch of Quaker breakfast bars – plenty of eyes are turned towards the health bars fixture.
“The shifting perception of snacks as part of the overall nutrient intake is helping consumers to be better focused on the healthy aspects of snack foods,” Sola Lamikanra, president of Sola Snacks, told this site. “There is increasingly the awareness of the benefits of frequent small meals over the traditional three meals a day.”
Tapping key food trends
Convenience, and the ability to tap US food trends such as cleaner labels and natural, ‘visible' ingredients are contributing to the strong performance of the category – but how can this explosive growth be maintained?
Vegetables could have a big role to play in the future of the category, suggest industry observers.
One third of all snacking launches in 2015 contained a vegetable flavor, according to analysts Innova Market Insights. Among the most common vegetables found in snacks are greens such as spinach, and roots a tubers such as those used in potato-chip style vegetable crisps. Innova has tipped broccoli and cauliflower as among the vegetable set to grow as snacking ingredients.
Rise in vegetable snack bar launches
And Mintel says launches of vegetable snack bars are increasing, although are still limited. Vegetable bars accounted for 1% of total snack bar launches in North America between November 2014 and October 2015 – up from 0.6% in the previous 12-month period.
Growth has been more pronounced in Europe – up from 0.2% of launches to 1.2% - with Mintel highlighting products including the Chimpanzee Beetroot & Carrot Energy Bar from the Czech Republic and Aldi’s The Foodie Market Amazing Apple, Carrot & Seeds Bars.
US brands already tapping the vegetable trend include Rawr, which produces ‘fruit leather’ style products using sweet potato, beetroot and kale.
Improved health profile
“A number of factors contribute to the trend of using vegetables in snack bars,” said Mintel. “Vegetable content can significantly improve the health profile of a product, particularly when superfood vegetables such as beetroots and kale are used."
"Sugar is an issue for many snack foods, and this has driven innovation in more savory flavors."
And savory snack bar flavors are not confined to vegetable ingredients, with Kind, for example, producing is Strong and Kind range of bars with flavors such as Roasted Jalapeño and Hickory Smoked. Sola Snacks has recently launched a range of savory bars containing peanuts, seeds, herbs, and spices in flavors including Chipotle and Roasted Garlic with Sea Salt.
Reducing sugar content
While savory flavors give an opportunity to reduce sugar content in a product, Sola says it has removed the need to use sugar as a binder through a patent-pending process that optimizes the inherent binding compounds in food ingredients.
This, suggests Sola president Lamikanra, could help the category overcome a potential stumbling block.
“Increased consciousness and awareness being created through research findings on effects of high sugar intake could potentially make healthy snack seeking consumers question why they are compromising their desire to limit sugar intake as they consume snack bars," he says.