In snack bars, ingredients tell the brand’s story

Consumers are replacing meals with snacks like functional bars that formerly were solely sports nutrition products. But success in a crowded market for snack bars requires careful strategic execution in messaging and packaging in addition to innovation in formulation and ingredients.

Jon Copeland, Research Strategist

July 10, 2020

5 Min Read
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In an increasingly connected and busy world, consumers are spending more time engaging in their social lives or escaping into leisure activities, and less time shopping and preparing meals. Today’s consumers prioritize convenience and look for ways to save time throughout the day. Therefore, it’s no surprise that healthy snacking is on the rise.

In fact, Nielsen has reported 52% of consumers are replacing breakfast with snacking, while 42% are using snacks to replace lunch and 40% to replace dinner. Furthermore, data from Harris Interactive indicated more than half of consumers buy snacks as part of their weekly grocery trip. Among consumers who skip meals for snacks, 30% do so at least once per day and 35% do so every couple of days, according to Harris.

At the same time, consumers are also more attuned to health and nutrition than before. According to the International Food Information Council, more than half of consumers read the nutrition facts panel or ingredients list when deciding to buy a product. For these busy, health conscious consumers, the snack bar is a common go-to product, as both a snack and a meal replacement. Recent data from IRI shows sales of snack bars totaled more than US$6 billion between March 2018 to March 2019.

As snack bars become more popular, consumers will seek out new and innovative options in the category. Success in a crowded market for snack bars requires careful strategic execution in messaging and packaging in addition to innovation in formulation. Every aspect of the snack bar brand should speak to the consumer’s desire for convenience, flavor and functionality.

Protein bars that stand out

What was once the sole purview of sports enthusiasts, protein bars continue to grow in popularity among general consumers. Protein bars offer an easy meal replacement solution for any person with a packed schedule, from parents to working professionals. As interest in plant-based foods increases, many vegetarian and vegan-friendly protein sources present significant growth opportunities.

For example, pea protein is gaining favor as a source of quality, plant-based protein and has become a staple ingredient in meat and dairy substitutes, as well as meal replacement applications. Peas offer a complete profile of amino acids, are highly digestible and have a compelling sustainability story. Additionally, pea protein is a good fit for allergen- and gluten-free diets. Therefore, it is no surprise that pea protein is one of the fastest-growing protein powders on the market, according to SPINS data. As consumers become more aware of pea protein, expect to see it used more in snack bar formulations.

One way for brands to innovate in the category is to experiment with new and interesting protein sources. Take, for example, Health Warrior, a line of all-natural bars built on a base of wholesome, high-protein chia seeds. These bars come in a variety of fruit flavors and are even available via a 30-, 60- or 90-day subscription service, as well as mainstream channels such as Whole Foods Market and Target. Chia seeds have a health halo around which Health Warrior has built a brand that serves a niche consumer segment through channels relevant to this audience.

Or, consider Exo Protein, which offers protein bars made with cricket protein. While not vegetarian or vegan, the brand positions crickets as one of the most sustainable, nutritious protein sources available. According to Exo, cricket farming contributes a mere 1% of the greenhouse gases that beef production creates and uses a fraction of the feed and water needed to farm other sources of animal protein. By focusing on sustainability, Exo’s brand demonstrates how snack bars can appeal to consumers’ personal values.

Ingredients as the foundation to a brand’s narrative

These are just a few examples of how snack bar brands can successfully position themselves in a crowded market with strategic messaging about their key ingredients. While chia seeds and cricket protein are not the most sought-after ingredients, each brand effectively makes its key ingredient the star of its brand story to resonate with their respective target audiences.

Sugar reduction is another trend with high appeal for certain consumer segments. For example, research from Innova Market Insights shows half of U.S. baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are reducing their sugar consumption. Natural sweeteners such as sweet potato syrup and stevia give formulators clean label options for adding sweetness without adding table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Formulators can also rely upon dried fruits to add sweetness and appeal to consumers’ interest in whole food ingredients.

Primal Kitchen is an example of a brand that specializes in products for keto and paleo dieters who must keep their sugar intake to a minimum. Snack bars from Primal Kitchen contain a mere 2 grams of sugar and prominently feature the product’s natural, real-food ingredients. By targeting these specific dietary needs, Primal Kitchen has built brand equity with keto/paleo consumers, which enables it to move into the snack bar category with fewer barriers to entry.

Patterbar is another snack bar company that built its brand story on whole food ingredients with no added sugar. With Patterbar snack bars, whole, unprocessed food ingredients such as berries, nuts and coconut, are a source of “clean energy” for consumers. The brand offers convenient, wholesome snack options that are not over-processed or artificial. In fact, Patterbar’s website contains a “What We Don’t Use” page, which lists, among other things, added sugar.

The snack bar category is replete with competition and can be difficult for new brands to navigate or find a point of entry. However, as the aforementioned examples show, a brand built on innovative formulations with unique ingredients can be successfully positioned to grow in this competitive market. At the end of the day, the successful bar brands are the ones that appeal to not only consumers’ desire for convenience, but also their values and unique needs.

Jon Copeland is a research strategist at MarketPlace, a strategic partner to food and beverage, pet and animal, and health and wellness brands and businesses.

About the Author(s)

Jon Copeland

Research Strategist, MarketPlace

Jon Copeland is a research strategist at MarketPlace , a strategic partner to food and beverage, pet and animal, and health and wellness brands and businesses.

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