Abbott Laboratories’ Glucerna bar fits a commonly used definition for a functional food. It addresses a specific health condition, diabetes.
  • Bars have become meals.
  • Nutrition bars address specific health and exercise needs.
  • The women's segment is growing.
If the displays at drug and convenience stores haven't tipped you off to the enormous growth in the energy and nutrition bar business, let the chart curves tell the story. The annual growth rate in the energy supplement business has topped 20% for the past five years, and the bar business has shown some of the most intense new product activity in the food industry. Mintel International, Chicago, reported last April that nearly 20% of those who consume energy bars are using them as a meal replacement, though those using them for this purpose are predominantly women. However, energy/nutrition bars cut a broad swath through the consumer market, and the increasingly segmented marketing efforts—to dieters, women, weekend athletes, body builders, athletes, “extreme” sports enthusiasts, and others—is a big reason for new product proliferation in the category.

On the diet front, Atkins Nutritional, Hauppauge, N.Y., a line made familiar by the protein-rich/low-carb Atkins Diet, introduced a number of new products in 2002. These helped the company boost unit sales 37.5% and push dollar volume to $40.7 million, according to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), the Chicago-based market intelligence firm.

The year found products targeted to enthusiasts of specific sports. NutriGolf Products, St. Clair Shores, Mich., for example, introduced a “Meal Replacement for Golfers.” Energy Bar Company, Naples, Fla., introduced Baseball Bar, Soccer Bar, Tennis Bar and Fitness Bar (20 vitamins, three herbs). EAS, Golden, Colo., unleashed its AdvantEdge Extreme Outdoor Energy Bars for energy boost and enhanced athletic performance in outdoor endeavors.

The year found products for individuals with specific health needs, too. Among these was the Glucema Meal Replacement Bar from Abbot Labs' Ross Products division, Colombus, Ohio, while Carbolite Foods, Evansville, Ind., introduced Carbolite at Last Low Glycema Candy Bar made with sucralose. Both of these targeted diabetics.

Formulations may feature various mixes of the standard grains of goodness found in cereals and bakery products plus fruits, vegetables, yogurt, proteins (principally whey and soy). Meanwhile, fortification can be in the form of vitamins, minerals and a growing mix of specialty ingredients alleged to deliver health benefits.

Kellogg’s Kashi brand exemplifies two trends—bars for weight loss and large company involvement in the category.

Kellogg's Kashi

Segment leader Kellogg, Battle Creek, Mich., totaled $316.9 million in the segment, a 20.3% sales gain. Part of this resulted from $26.9 million in sales of the new Nutri Grain Yogurt bars—which are filled rather than coated with yogurt—and a new cinnamon apple addition to the Rice Krispies Treats marshmallow squares line.

However, Kellogg also is cultivating the fertile field of functional foods through the Kashi line, already well positioned with its long list of health-oriented cereals. Kashi GoLean Snack Bars are formulated with seven whole grains, sesame, and both soy and whey protein. While Nutri-Grain and Rice Krispies Treats occupy the lower end of the price spectrum, Kashi GoLeans go for $20 per 12-pack.

In another noteworthy development, Kellogg's Keebler brand, Elmhurst, Ill., embarked on its first venture into the category with Keebler Journey, a chewy, multi-grain cereal bar.

No longer just a snack, bars now are used as complete meal replacements.

Big Growth for the Biggies

The big cereal makers have capitalized on grain-based grab-and-go food bars and churned new products out in endless varieties under brands new and old. The snack bar/granola bar segment climbed 18.5% in unit sales and 19.9% in dollar volume in 2002, ending the year at $1.6 billion in sales through supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers alone, according to IRI data.

General Mills, Minneapolis, notched by far the biggest growth, with huge gains in both its Nature Valley granola snack bars and its expanding line of Milk 'N Cereal bars, which included a Cocoa Puffs variety this past year. The Nature Valley line, which featured a new chewy trail mix bar, posted a 41.1% sales gain on total 2002 sales of $136.8 million. The Milk 'N Cereal line grew 40.2% on $68.8 million in sales.

The totals were not enough to pass PepsiCo's Quaker, Chicago, however. Quaker Chewy granola bars tallied $175.5 million on an 11.7% sales increase to lead all comers. The Quaker line featured a new co-branding effort with a variety that included Nestle's Baby Ruth pieces and a licensed character introduction—Jimmy Neutron Chewy Granola Bars. Quaker notched nearly $279 million in bar sales, despite a 5.5% drop in Quaker Fruit & Oatmeal bar sales.

Unilever, Greenwich, Conn., posted monster gains in its SlimFast, West Palm Beach, Fla., sales—38.8% dollar growth with $138.6 million in sales, according to IRI. The line's Meal-on-the-Go bars came out in 1.97-ounce singles.

Other food giants extended their forays into the energy/nutrition bar segment, largely with improved and more innovative flavors. Nestle's Powerfood unit, Berkeley, Calif., introduced a Protein Plus Toffee Apple Energy Bar with 24g of protein and added cookies 'n cream and cappucino flavors to its PowerBar line. It also added carrot cake and double chocolate varieties to its Power Bar Harvest line of dipped energy bars. To its Pria brand of low-calorie nutrition bars, formulated with soy and whey protein and fortified with calcium, iron and B vitamins, Nestle added strawberry shortcake and crème caramel crisp varieties.

Bars Worth Weighing For

“Organic” holds marketing magic among a strong and growing segment of health-minded consumers. Healthco Canada's, Kelowana, British Columbia, Canada, ReBar Organic Vegetable-Fruit Bars hit the market in grains-n-greens and protein-plus varieties. Guelph, Ontario-based PureSource introduced Organic Snack Bar and Real Green High Fiber Energy Bars. Another interesting new product touting its organic ingredients is Ruth's Soft Hemp Certified Organic Hemp Cranberry Almond Bar, from Ruth's Hemp Foods, Toronto. Coca-Cola, Atlanta, added a greenfood variety to its Odwalla Food Bar line in Canada.

Weight-watching women fuel a healthy portion of energy/nutrition bar sales. New products directed to this faithful following included EAS's Results for Women Complete Energy Bars, a granola-style bar promising to maintain high energy levels throughout the day, and Clif Bars', Berkeley, Calif., Nutrition Bars for Women.

Much of the information in this article was derived from Mintel International's Global New Products Database, , 312-932-0400.

Website Resources — Carbolite Foods Inc. — 2000 article on health bar formulation — Clif Bars company profile — Profile on Alma bar

Sidebar: Going Global

Could it be that the status of women is improving in China? Well, at least they merit their own nutrition bars. MFA Group has introduced almond soy Alma Bar formulated specially for women. The product contains non-GMO soy-based ingredients, almonds, brown rice syrup, oat flour and bran, and almonds, which supply consumers with a rich source of phytoestrogens that may promote hormone balance and bone health, while reducing menopausal symptoms.

Long known for their prowess in endurance sports, the Finns have several new energy/endurance bars on their store shelves. Makrobios of Finland has introduced Dr. Gillian McKeith's Energy Bar under the Living Food brand. The company claims the formulation includes “5000mg energy powder made with sprouted grains and seeds harvested at the peak of enzyme activity.” Another Finnish company, Reformi-Keskus, launched Energiapatukat Energy Bar under the Dexal brand. The core of the bar is made from honey, nuts and fruit surrounded by a super-thin waffle, which prevents melting in demanding conditions.