Among the biggest hits in the packaged foods industry in recent years are food bars, those ubiquitous, portable, functional, affordable, convenient, meal- or snack-on-the-go treats that appeal to adults and children alike.
Market tracker Nielsen pegged the market for food bars at nearly $4 billion last year. This is up from around $700 million in 2000. Overall the category grew 11 percent in 2007 and for some segment-leading manufacturers the rate of growth was significantly higher than that. One major manufacturer’s CEO reported at a recent analysts’ meeting that sales of his company’s grain snacks, comprised mostly of cereal bars and other food bars, had risen 35 percent in the past 12 months.
The appeal to consumers is simple: Food bars satisfy cravings for quick, on-the-go foods that can curb hunger between meals, in a pinch or on a diet, or as a stand in for a meal. From a nutritional standpoint, they’re a convenience food consumers can feel good about eating. Many bars, for example, are low in fat and/or high in protein, and most contain feel-good ingredients, such as whole grains, yogurt, fruit and nuts.
Just how popular are food bars? Very. Recent research shows room for continued growth. Kerry Ingredients & Flavours, a leading supplier of ingredients and flavorings to food manufacturers, conducted an online consumer study in December 2007 that showed almost half (49 percent) of participating adults had eaten at least one food bar within the past 30 days. By food bar segment, snack bars held the largest market share, at 37 percent, and almost three in four consumers said they had eaten one or more snack bars within the month. Market share for other segments broke down as “nutritional intrinsic” bars, 24 percent; weight management bars, 22 percent; and “niche” granola bars, 18 percent.
The Kerry survey also found specific usage trends. While food bars are consumed across a wide range of occasions, consumers said they’re most likely to reach for them as between-meal snacks and/or replacements for breakfast. As expected, snack bars are most often consumed between meals, but nutrition intrinsic and niche granola bars are also enjoyed more often as snacks than as meal replacements. The only segment eaten more often as a meal than as a snack are weight management bars, which many women, in particular, choose as a breakfast replacement.