Cereal bars that are organic and fruit-based are especially hot among consumers.

According to Mintel, the cereal bars category is defined as granola bars (made up of products like Nature Valley granola, Quaker Oats’ chewy granola and Kudos granola bars) and breakfast bars (including such products as Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain, General Mills’ Milk ‘n Cereal and Quaker’s Fruit & Oatmeal bars). Sales were just over $1.3 billion for 2007, an increase of 43% since 2002. Leading cereal manufacturers like Kellogg’s, General Mills and Quaker Oats together account for 70% of the total cereal bar market. 

In 2006, the Department of Agriculture released a study revealing that 93% of American diets lack the recommended amounts of essential vitamins and nutrients required for good health. Growing awareness of this shortfall leads many consumers to seek healthier alternatives to the foods they enjoy. Additionally, concern about the prevalence of obesity in adults and children, as well as its implications on health, is moving more Americans to consider how their eating habits affect their well-being.

As a result, much of the growth in the cereal bar market is a direct result of shoppers reaching out for better-for-you alternatives to morning pastries or afternoon candy bars. Mintel’s trended analysis of Simmons National Consumer Survey reveals 65% of consumers report trying to eat healthier, up eight points between 2002-2006. Those who eat cereal bars have an even higher incidence of trying to eat healthy, at 72%. This is a positive cue that consumers see cereal bars as compatible with leading a healthy lifestyle. Although reported behavior does not always match up with actions, it does signify that more people intend to eat healthier, and cereal bar sales were positively impacted as a result.

Bars for Breakfast, Organic with Fruit

The majority of consumers, over 200 million people, eat breakfast on weekdays and weekends, based on Mintel’s report, “Breakfast Cereal — U.S., August 2007.” This suggests that breakfast is still an important eating occasion for most people. However, the report indicates that cereal sales declined 6% from 2002-2007. One reason is that consumers are turning to cereal bars as a quicker alternative to the traditional bowl of cereal. Increased cereal bar sales over the same time period confirms this. Furthermore, Mintel’s consumer research shows that, among those who eat cereal bars, 83% have them for breakfast. Manufacturers can widen the market for cereal bars by downplaying the connection with breakfast cereals and highlighting their role as an anytime snack.

New product trends in the bar market reflect consumer desire for organic products. For example, while organic products accounted for just 8% of new bars introduced in 2004, they made up 44% of new bars in 2007 (as per Mintel’s GNPD). Furthermore, sales for these products are increasing much faster than average. In fact, Mintel’s “Organic Foods — U.S., October 2007” report found that organic food sales generally rose 132% from 2002-2007, to $4.2 billion. Although sales for organic cereal bars do not pose a strong threat to sales of conventional products, more new products on the market and greater demand by consumers are leading to wider retail distribution. Traditional grocery stores and general merchandisers are carrying a much wider selection of organic products. Since these products usually cost more than conventional bars, increased sales can only contribute to faster growth of the cereal bar market.

The 2005 food pyramid updates inspired Americans to add more fruit to their diets. This and the challenge that some consider bars to be over-processed or filled with nutritionally questionable ingredients, like high-fructose corn syrup, are moving manufacturers to increase the number of bars sweetened with fruit or that are entirely fruit-based bars. According to GNPD, 83 (or 27%) of the new snack/cereal/energy bars introduced in 2007 feature fruit as a key ingredient; many promise to fulfill two or more of the recommended five to seven daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

Consumers have an opinion about which bars count as better-for-you. In today’s wellness-driven market, cereal bars with a nutrition profile perceived to be overly similar to candy bars and cookies are in decline. According to IRI InfoScan data, MasterFoods’ Kudos brand experienced a loss of 39% at FDM from 2004-2006. This kid-friendly brand is well-known for its addition of M&M's milk chocolate and Snickers candy bar pieces.

At the same time, brands with less-indulgent flavor profiles and a focus on better nutrition (like Barbara’s Bakery Nature’s Choice and Kashi) benefited from the quest for healthier snacks. Not only are brands with healthy positioning increasing in sales, but they are also growing the category, as shoppers reach for them in place of cookies, candy bars and other high-fat, high-sugar snack items.

Market Trends: Granola Bars

Granola bar sales increased 20%, to $746 million from 2005-2007, in conjunction with an increase in market penetration. Part of the attraction for cereal bars is due to the wide array of tastes and textures, like chewy or crunchy; sweet and salty; or coated and uncoated. To their credit, much of the variety comes from inherently healthy ingredients like fruit, nuts, oats and yogurt adding to the appeal.

Increasing whole-grain consumption is another FDA recommendation affecting new products introduced into the bar market. Food manufacturers across various food categories are touting whole grains, and cereal bars are no exception. Whole-grain positioning claims were minimal prior to 2004. However, these claims rose to 84 by 2007, now representing 17% of new products launched. For example, Kashi granola bars feature the brand’s strong image of wholesomeness with its famous blend of seven whole grains. After their introduction to the market in 2005, Kashi granola bar sales sprouted to $30 million for the year-end of 2006.

Low-calorie products typically are viewed as healthy and are a favorite option among consumers. Quaker Oats launched its version of popular portion- and calorie-controlled packages, with Quaker Chewy 90 Calorie bars. Consumers appear to have fully embraced the product, with the line registering nearly $50 million in FDM sales for the 52 weeks ending March 25, 2007. Product success is likely, due to the scarcity of snack bars that have fewer than 120 calories, especially those that do not rely on artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. This indicates an opportunity for manufacturers to create more bars with fewer than 100 calories, especially those made without “watch-out” ingredients like hydrogenated oils or high-fructose corn syrup.

Market Trends: Breakfast Bars

Breakfast bars were originally introduced to the market as an on-the-go alternative to breakfast cereal. Breakfast bars tend to be fortified with vitamins, minerals and even protein, making them comparable to a traditional bowl of cereal. Mintel’s consumer research shows that eight in 10 respondents still primarily eat them for breakfast. However, limited eating occasions appear to be hampering market growth. Sales of cereal bars held steady, increasing just 1% at FDM 2005-2007, reaching $565 million by the 52 weeks ending March 25, 2007. Manufacturers may be able to widen the market for breakfast bars by downplaying their connection with breakfast cereals, instead highlighting cereal bars’ role as an anytime snack.

Private label brands, like Albertson’s Fruit and Grain Cereal Bars, Jewel Fruit and Grain Cereal Bar and Supervalu Strawberry Cereal Bars, brought in $36 million in FDM sales during the 52 weeks ending March 25, 2007, a 10% increase. This indicates that many consumers are switching from popular name brand breakfast bars to lower-cost, private label, look-alike bars. The overall market is benefited in terms of sales volume. However, their lower cost reduces total market sales, thus dampening dollar growth.

On the upside for breakfast bars, Kellogg’s shifted its focus to the Special K brand, launching new line extensions highlighting weight-loss benefits. As a result, Special K breakfast bars increased 69%, to $86 million. Similarly, Kraft Foods’ South Beach Diet breakfast bars brought $65 million in sales. The brand’s well-advertised line of products, along with its balanced approach to weight loss, makes it appealing to consumers.

Into the Future

According to Mintel’s consumer research, market penetration for cereal bars is nearly 60% among those over the age of 45. At this rate, current population projections indicate more than 6 million new, over-45 consumers in the cereal bars market by 2012.

The market has the potential to profit from this demographic trend by tailoring products to meet the needs of older consumers. Unlike children and young adults who are primarily taste-driven, Mintel’s consumer research found that the mature cereal bar consumer is also concerned about fat, fiber and sugar content, as well as the number of calories. There are some suitable products already on the market; in fact, low-/no-/reduced-sugar is one of the top 10 positioning claims for new products launched in 2007, according to Mintel’s GNPD. However, in 2008, Baby Boomers account for one out of every four consumers, making this a sufficiently large group to merit products formulated to meet their specific nutritional requirements. Forward-looking manufacturers will create new products to meet this need.  

Many new bars on the market feature lifestyle or wellness benefits, such as organic ingredients, antioxidants, high fiber and probiotics. Taking this a step further, cereal bar manufacturers can follow the lead of product developments in the functional food and drink markets and incorporate additives that have risen in prominence in recent years, like glucosamines, coenzyme Q10 and omega-3 fatty acids. Use of these functional additives may prove especially lucrative, as the previously mentioned Baby Boomers look for non-medical remedies and preventatives in the foods they eat.

Co-branding to Allergen-free

By expanding the Special K brand name beyond cold cereal, Kellogg’s has made the brand top of mind with consumers at more than just breakfast time. The brand’s cereal bars, beverages and other products give consumers Special K options at multiple eating occasions throughout the day. Additionally, the Special K challenge guarantees that followers will lose six pounds or more in two weeks, if two meals per day are replaced with selected Special K products. Kellogg’s and its Special K brand provide an example of line extension activity that might benefit other cereal bar manufacturers.

For those cereal bar manufacturers unwilling or unable to take the Special K route, co-branding with other established brand names may prove successful. For example, premium chocolate manufacturer Ghirardelli has already expanded into coffee and baking mixes. It is not a tremendous leap for the company to partner with a cereal bar manufacturer to create a new product with a premium aura that would command a premium price. Cereal bar manufacturers may benefit from partnerships of this kind to not only expand their potential consumer base, but to capitalize on the cachet of their partners’ brand names.

The number of food allergy and intolerance sufferers in the U.S. ranges from 6-11 million people, based on estimates from the FDA and the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN). This and the 2006 laws requiring labeling for allergens motivated some manufacturers to use allergen-free ingredients as a means to differentiate themselves in the market. For example, in 2004, gluten-free labeling was virtually non-existent. However, in 2007, of all the newly launched snack bars captured by Mintel’s GNPD, 92 items (or nearly 20%) were gluten-free. This made it the sixth of the top 10 labeling claims.

This presents an opportunity for manufacturers of rice, oat, pea and other allergen-free flours. Presently, the majority of bars have some form of wheat present in the formulation, albeit used minimally as functional ingredients. It may be possible to replace wheat and soy flours to enable more manufacturers to provide allergen-free foods. 

This article contains information from the Mintel report “Cereal Bars, U.S., December 2007.” Please visit http://reports.mintel.com for more information or call Mintel at 312-932-0400.