Year after year, the breadth and depth of snack and bar innovation continues to amaze and 2015 was no exception.  If the year had a theme, it would be the desire of many snack bar launches to emulate the success of the Kind brand.

2015 was actually unkind to Kind for a couple of reasons.  First, the US Food and Drug Administration accused the brand of labeling four of its bar varieties as “healthy” when the fat content of the bars exceeded the FDA’s limits (3g of total fat or 1g of saturated fat per serving) regarding the use of the marketing term.  Kind Healthy Snacks changed the packaging for the offending bars, but not before tweaking the FDA by suggesting that the regulatory agency change its health labeling rules to reflect “today’s nutritional science” which recognizes that nuts may be high in fat, but are considered to be healthful.

Second, the Kind brand saw a number of companies adopt key elements of its unique proposition, especially the transparent packaging that has long defined Kind snack bars as well as the brand’s use of whole nuts, fruits and grains.  With over one billion Kind bars sold over the past decade, Kind makes an increasingly juicy target. 

General Mills’ Food Should Taste Good brand targeted Kind with its “Real Good Bar” in clear packaging that showcases its hazelnut and macadamia nut ingredients. Last fall saw The Hershey Company launch three varieties of Brookside Fruit & Nut Bars. Likewise, Kellogg’s Special K Chewy Nut Bars got into the act with Chocolate Almond and Cranberry Almond bars with “deliciously real” simple ingredients, all in clear wrappers to show the bar contents. 

B&G Foods’ CLVR Snack Bar had similar packaging, but did break new ground on the sweetener front by using coconut sugar as a sweetener. It also took another interesting step with one of the market’s first mulberry-flavored bars: Pomegranate Mulberry Amaranth flavor.

Even private labels got into the act with Wegmans Food Markets launching its “Food You Can Feel Good About” Wholesum Bars in clear wrappers and developed to be “even better than the best-selling bar already on the market.”  The bars were and are shelved next to Kind bars in Wegmans’ supermarkets to make the point crystal clear. 

Undeterred by these new competitors, the Kind brand channeled protein and savory flavors for its Strong & Kind Almond Protein Bar in flavors like Hickory Smoked and Honey Mustard.  Few ingredients enjoy a stronger healthy halo than almonds. 

According to Canadean’s 2015 ingredient survey, 80.6% of American consumers feel that almonds would have a positive impact on health (compared to a negative or neutral effect on health), landing almonds number four on a list of 100 different ingredients surveyed.

Other big news in snack bars was provided by big brands entering the market for the first time.  Smucker’s Jif brand is synonymous with peanut butter and the brand extended this heritage into snack bars with Peanut Butter Granola Bars in Creamy and Crunchy flavors.  Campbell Soup’s V8 brand is a fixture in vegetable drinks, but a neophyte in snack bars.  In 2015, the brand introduced V8 Protein Snack Bars with 10g of protein per serving and vegetable ingredients like carrots and sweet potatoes. 

General Mills’ Nature Valley Simple Nut Bar went clean label with “simple ingredients from nature” like peanuts and cashews. Seeds and ancient grains were also trendy in 2015, with both coming together in Kashi’s Organic Chewy Granola & Seed Bars in a Dark Chocolate Pomegranate flavor with oats, barley, rye, brown rice, chia, millet and quinoa.

Hemp seed is edging closer to the mainstream as a snack bar ingredient.  Hemp seed is not only high in protein; it is also high in heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Manitoba Harvest added Hemp Heart Hemp Seed Bars to “fuel your active lifestyle.”  Evo Hemp debuted what appears to be the world’s first raw, cold-pressed health bar, picking up on the cold-pressed trend from beverages.  The cold-pressed process is thought to better retain flavor, aroma, and nutritional value than other processing methods. 

The Paleo diet trend made its presence known in snack bars with the egg white or beef-based Julian Bakery Paleo Protein Bar that forsakes the use of grain ingredients.  Likewise, the Mediterranean Diet and its focus on healthy fats led to the launch of the Mediterra Savory Bar in savory flavors like Bell Peppers & Green Olives.

Other ingredient innovations included the Pure Genius Bar, which is more than one-third chickpeas and the Cherry Hero Coffee Cherry Nutrition Bar.  The latter is the first snack bar with coffee cherries – the red fruit on the outside of the coffee bean that is high in antioxidants. Bars made with cricket flour are not brand new, but seem to be prospering.  Chapul added a Matcha Bar made with matcha green tea powder and cricket flour in 2015.  According to Pat Crowley, founder of Chapul, the brand is on track for $1.5 million in annual sales and recently gained distribution in all Sprouts Farmers Market stores.

One relatively new ingredient to watch in snack bars is meat.  Epic Provisions helped popularize the concept of a hybrid meat snack in a bar shape made with fruit and nut ingredients with its eponymous Epic Bar.  Epic was purchased by General Mills in January of 2016 (for around $100 million), a vote of confidence in the meat snack as snack bar concept and an indication we could see similar launches in the future. 

A new brand to watch in this space is Wilde, a “Slow-Baked Bar” that is a snack bar-shaped meat bar with ancient grains, seeds, superfruits, and vegetable ingredients.  Offered in flavors like Strawberry Black Pepper Bison, the bar is made using a slow bake process that yields a shelf-stable, premium portable protein product (10g of protein per bar) low in sugar and calories (just 100 per bar).  The production technique is so novel that the Food and Drug Administration required that the company validate its production process prior to giving the product its blessing.

Snack bar makers found new ways to add new taste sensations and take product offerings to new premium levels in 2015.  Fruit and sweet flavor combinations were trendy, highlighted by introductions like Quaker Chewy Granola Bars in flavors such as Banana Chocolate Chip. 

Coffee flavors could be a new source of inspiration for the market and maybe a new way to grab breakfast sales.  Kind Healthy Grains Caramel Macchiato Granola Bars are made with coffee combined with five super grains including quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat.   Texture is another way to dazzle taste buds, and the popping texture trending in chips hit snack bars with Kind Healthy Grains Granola Bars in flavors like Popped Salted Caramel with grains like sorghum and millet “popped to toasty perfection.”

The bar format itself is changing for the future.  Bounce Energy Balls offer a unique ball shape for consumers bored with traditional bars.  One ball has 13g of protein.  Post Foods goes beyond the bar with its Post Great Grains “The Bar Undone” Granola Snack Mix which is not really a snack bar, but is a loose, trail mix-like pouch-packaged snack based on snack bar ingredients.


Originally appeared in the March, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as Step Up to the Bar.