Increased snacking occasions, consumers’ busy lifestyles and the desire for convenient on-the-go nutrition are opening the door to increased opportunity for innovation in the snack bar sector. The global snack bar sector saw $13.2 billion in sales in 2014, according to Euromonitor International, London. This sectorincluding breakfast bars, energy and nutrition bars, fruit bars, granola/muesli bars and other snack barsis being impacted by several factors beyond the need for a quick, portable bite.
May’s digital issue, “Clean-Label Bars," explores consumers’ desire to live healthier and how that is shaping how nutritional bars are made. A lot takes place from concept to the final product, and formulators are tasked with finding clean-label ingredients, such as sweeteners, proteins, fibers and inclusions, which not only look good on a label but also yield a bar in perfect form with piece integrity, shelf longevity and palatability.
The problem is there’s a lot of ambiguity and subjectivity surrounding many of these so-called healthy or natural ingredients. Perhaps nothing speaks more of consumer confusion, however, than the gluten-free trend. Gluten is a serious threat to about 1 percent of the population who suffer from celiac disease, but authors and TV celebs have encouraged consumers to give up gluten for a healthier life. The trouble with this school of thought is many go-to ingredients used to create the perfect barincluding piece integrity, shelf longevity and palatabilityare gluten-laden.
Another troubled ingredient that lends flavor, texture, humectancy and binding properties in bars is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). No matter its functional and flavor capabilities, HFCS is maligned by many health advocates and consumers. But according to Judie Giebel, AIB certified master baker, Briess Technical Services, Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., Chilton, Wisconsin, “There is no natural sweetener that can replace HFCS or high-intensity sweeteners 1:1. Sweetness levels and viscosity will be changed without a total reformulation, yet manufacturers need to maintain the original quality and flavor of the product."
Nonetheless, bar manufacturers are on the hunt for clean-label sweeteners such as honey, brown rice syrup, tapioca syrup, glucose syrup and agave syrup. But alternative sweeteners are not a drop-in solution. “Taking a sugar-based product and replacing with a non-crystalline product like white grain sorghum syrup will give different mouthfeel as well as color and flavor," Giebel said. “This is the type of issue that frequently leads to a total reformulation for a clean label."
Inclusions like soft fruits such as bananas and dates also help bind ingredients together. Fruit juice concentrates and purees can be incorporated into the binding syrup to add flavor and color, and blueberries provide sweetness and enrich products naturally. Because blueberries are compatible with a wide variety of ingredients, potential abounds for a variety of concepts. In gluten-free bars, blueberries are synergistic with oats, amaranth, buckwheat, chia, millet, quinoa, sorghum, teff, kamut, farro and spelt.
But perhaps the biggest push in bar formulation is toward protein. Several market insights and institutions have named it the ingredient to talk about. Plant-based protein is very on-trend, as are vegetable-based proteins such as pea, lentil, faba bean and more.
And as Cindy Hazen points out in her article, “Clean-Label Bars," a discussion about clean-label formulations wouldn’t be complete without a nod to transparency. “Today’s consumers have more information about their food available at their fingertips than ever before," Teresa Penn, senior scientist, Snacks and Cereals – Food Applications North America, Cargill, Plymouth, Minnesota, said. “Clean label to consumers is all about transparency of information. It’s important for consumers to be able to recognize the ingredients in their bars, understand what function/purpose the ingredients serve in the bar formula and where the bar ingredients come from. Cleaner label can mean fewer ingredients, ingredients from consumer-recognized sources, less processed or food with a story."