Snacks represent a huge and diverse market as eating patterns have become less formal. It’s clear that three traditional meal occasions have transformed into larger numbers of smaller meals or grazing occasions throughout the day. Now consider demand for physical and mental energy boosts through the day as consumers return to increasingly busy lifestyles. Connect the dots and this leads to growing demands for snacks with energizing properties.

Although popular, this is one trend that takes a little more time to track and understand. Within the large and diverse snacks market, the use of specific “energy” claims remains relatively limited. In fact that term appeared in just more than 1% of all global snack launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2020. In the highly developed US market, energy snack introductions only represented a modest 2% of all those items introduced in 2020. The majority of launches in the US were in just two subcategories—snack mixes and fruit-based snacks—and these accounted for a combined 75% of new product development.

Looking more closely at the US market, snack mixes had the highest number of claims related to energy or alertness and these associations appeared on more than 13% of subcategory launches in 2020. Moreover, these mixes constituted more than half of all US snack introductions using this type of claim during the 52-week, year-end period. Looking more closely as the nutrition label, these products combine traditional high-energy ingredients such as fruits and nuts. And, in addition to energy claims, many have on-pack positioning with plant-based, vegan, clean label and “free from” benefits.

Fruit, Nut Mixes
Trail mixes are probably most associated with the link between snacking and energy. That’s because they were developed for hikes and offered a portable, tasty and nutritious pick-me-up. These products typically combine dried fruit, nuts, grains and sometimes confections. They offer a quick energy boost with carbohydrates from dried fruit and cereals, as well as sustained energy from the fat in nuts.

Recent launches include a line of adaptogenic trail mixes from Toodaloo LLC, Austin, Texas; and two Nature’s Garden Probiotic Keto Variety Snack Packs from Cibo Vita, Totowa, N.J. Cibo Vita says its Nature’s Garden’s mission is to continuously create innovative products that promote functionality, digestive wellness, and heart health, as well as offer products that are energy-boosting and address a Ketogenic diet.

There’s also interest to target specific meal occasions with high-energy snack mixes. Considering the ingredients most associated with breakfast products, this meal occasion offers get-up-and-go opportunities. Before selling its Planters brand to Hormel (February 2021), Kraft Heinz last year extended Planters with a Breakfast Blends line. The Planters NUT-trition line also includes an energy mix variety. 

Rather than focus on a particular meal occasion, newcomer SNACK Brand, Inc., Providence, R.I., proclaims its dedication to snacking while it focuses on spirulina as a key ingredient. This January saw the company launch four new superfood cluster varieties, including two for energy and focus: Blueberry & Matcha and Apricot & Matcha.

The natural characteristics of fruit are used to promote fruit-based snacks, with energy sometimes featuring alongside other benefits such as vitamin/mineral, antioxidant and fiber content and immune health.  A wide range of fruits tends to feature in the subcategory, including standards such as apple, banana and apricot, as well as tropical/exotics such as dates, pineapple and mango.

Many launches in this subcategory tout clean label simplicity and promote an energy boosting option to more traditional sugary snacks. More added-value characteristics can position the fruit more firmly in the snack sector and promote energy benefits more prominently. MAGICdATES LLC, Los Angeles, describes its namesake products as “Whole-plant Superfood Snacks” made with California dates. They are marketed as paleo-friendly, vegan and non-GMO and contain prebiotic fiber for gut health. They come in various coated (dark chocolate) and uncoated flavors and are marketed for pre/post workout use, as afternoon snacks, or even no-guilt desserts.

Better Bars
The “snackification” of our eating habits has also driven the development of the snack bars market, where interest in clean eating has often tended to move consumers in this direction rather than reaching for confectionery, cookies, cake or other traditional snacks. 

Sports energy bars represent another category widely used for snacking, while they represent a more targeted purchase (athletic performance). The market—in keeping with sports nutrition as a whole—has become more mainstream. It also has become more segmented with products for various purposes such as pre-training, endurance, recovery, etc.

Energy is a key requirement in this market and more than 18% of global sports bar launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2020 used an energy/alertness positioning. These claims appeared in 22% of new sports bar products in the large, highly developed US market.  

Many bars focus on sustained energy release and a balance of protein, carbs and fats. One recent launch involves BLD Bar, Los Angeles, and its namesake line of nutrition bars for quick and sustainable energy before a run, during work or after a workout. Interestingly, this new line sports savory varieties such as Country Ranch, Anything Bagel, Smoky BBQ and Margarita Lime.  

Also new and different are bars for specific sports activities. Two Guys and a Giant LLC, Peoria, Ariz., introduced Crafted Energy functional energy bars. Varieties include Climber, Runner and Cyclist and each features specific nutrition for sustained energy, muscle and tissue repair as well as recovery. Also entering the US market is Germany’s Runtime GmbH, Berlin. The company says its Runtime Chocolate Brownie Megabite Bar is “designed to give you the energy you need to power up your game.” It was formulated by a physician whose goal was to create a meal replacement to help reach mental and physical peak performance. Runtime’s bar and products contain isomaltulose, a “smart carb” with a low glycemic index and slower digestion time. 

While high levels of interest in energy benefits might be expected in the sports bars market, it is also apparent in the more mainstream cereal and energy bars subcategory, although at a lower level.  According to Innova Market Insights data, just more than 8% of global cereal and energy bars launches recorded in 2020 used claims related to energy or alertness. In the US, nearly 11% of these products used similar claims during that time period.

By far, the US has the world’s largest and most developed snack and granola bar market with sales of more than $9.5 billion per year, according to Innova Market Insights. That said, there are signs of market maturity and slowing growth rates. Products tend to carry multiple claims relating to health, a variety of ingredients and a wide range of flavors, including increasingly indulgent and dessert-style options.

Protein, and alternative plant-based protein in particular, tends to be particularly important in the nutrition bar market. Looking at launch activity in the first half of 2021, this included traditional oat-based products, such as a new four-item bar line from Over Easy Foods, Brooklyn, N.Y. Its namesake breakfast bars promote clean protein, high fiber and organic oats for sustained energy. There also ongoing interest in plant-based and vegan options. Avocado Riot Inc., New York, N.Y., introduced three Barvocado Avocado energy bars. A Coconut Maca variety promotes coconut and maca as “vegan superfoods” to boost energy.

With the overlap of many cereal bar ingredients and the popularity of cereal bars as nutritious, convenient, on-the-go breakfast options, it is not surprising that there also is also some interest in the use of energy claims for breakfast cereals (both hot and cold). In turn, these products also serve as snacks and can carry a wider health and wellness positioning. Not surprisingly, cereals can emphasize low glycemic index properties of whole grains such as oats.

Energy … Plus
While physical energy products are widely accepted and increasingly popular in snacking, there’s a related area of mental performance that is much less developed. For some years, there have been a few products formulated and marketed to improve concentration and memory—but these have seen only limited success. This is now starting to change as more credible, mainstream brands enter the category.

It’s not surprising to say the COVID pandemic sparked greater interest and activity with items targeting mental energy, focus and alertness. Innova Market Insights sees this reflected in new product launch activity. There are more snacking options offering mental acuity benefits and often these are combined with ingredients delivering a physical energy boost.

In the first half of 2021, for example, new US cereal bars included Go Condition Focus bar with caffeine and L-theanine for energy from Vista Outdoor Sales LLC, Anoka, Minn. Feed Your Brain Inc., Los Angeles, also introduced Mindright Brain Food Good Mood Superfood bars. There are four “Happy Brain Blend” varieties and they feature ingredients such as ashwagandha for calm, cordyceps for energy and MCT for brain fuel.

Consumers are expressing greater interest in both relaxation and alertness. Related new product activity also is shifting from beverage formats to foods, with snack options leading the way. This signals the potential for a much greater range of holistic-style snacking choices designed to help consumers cope—both physically and mentally—with today’s stressful lifestyles. 

Lu Ann Williams is Global Insights Director at Innova Market Insights, provider of market research services including the Innova Database. With more than 25 years’ experience in the food industry, Lu Ann is a trend expert and frequent public speaker at events worldwide. She leads a team of analysts and works with global clients. Contact her at