Donna Berry, Contributing Editor

July 30, 2009

7 Min Read
Stepping Up to Women's Bars

Developing a successful new product poses many challenges. The risk is even greater when you cut the target audience in half by being gender-specific, and in about half again when the target consumer is an adult. However, nutrition-bar manufacturers are learning that the risk is worth taking if the product delivers what it promises and tastes great at the same time.

Health-conscious women are a key consumer group purchasing nutrition bars today. Their reasons for purchasing vary widelyanything from meal replacement to weight management to a healthful snacking option, says Sarah Staley, vice president business development, Friesland Foods Domo USA Inc., Chicago.

But, bar systems offer unique challenges for formulators, Staley continues. Some ingredients are not stable or can interact with other ingredients in the system. Sometimes, processors have to overdose on a functional ingredient to ensure that bioactive levels remain through the shelf life. This can negatively impact flavor, color and mouthfeel, or cause defects such as grittiness. Its also important to consider the processing conditions the ingredients undergo and potential interactions.

Ram Chaudhari, senior executive vice president and chief scientific officer, Fortitech, Schenectady, NY, says: Bars are an ideal delivery vehicle for nutrients, because they are a convenient way to deliver nutrition for todays on-the-go lifestyle. They offer the flexibility to pack multiple nutrients into a single bar, enabling them to be nutrient-dense.

In adult women, consumption levels of several micronutrients, including vitamins A, D, E and B6, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron, are less than optimal, continues Chaudhari. These micronutrient gaps reflect a pattern of weakness in the diet that could be addressed in the development of a targeted, fortified nutrition bar for baby boomer females.

To make targeted formulation easier, Chaudhari recommends a custom premix of these woman-centric nutrients. Premixes provide consistency and potency of the fortifying ingredients, he says. Further, manufacturing is simplified with a single blend, incorporating multiple ingredients.

Other micronutrients recognized as playing an important role in the healthy aging of women are lutein and zeaxanthin. Recent scientific research has revealed that lutein and zeaxanthin go well beyond their widely known eye-protection attributes to provide advanced performance benefits that todays active women are now seeking, says Aparna Parikh, marketing manager, DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, NJ. In-depth studies indicate that these ingredients help to reduce the blinding effects of glare, enhance the eyes ability to filter damaging blue light and improve contrast acuity. Lutein and zeaxanthin enable manufacturers to give women the eye-health benefits that they want, opening up a wealth of new profit opportunities.

Packing in protein

According to a 2009 consumer study conducted by Summit Research, Atlanta, and commissioned by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), Rosemont, IL, a majority of women believe there is a clear, direct link between consuming high-quality protein and long-term health and body-toning benefits. Further, DMI consumer research shows that body-toning messages hold the most potential to reach women, giving them a compelling reason to increase consumption of a high-quality protein, such as that obtained from whey.

Scientific studies show that approximately 20 grams of protein is the amount needed to maximally stimulate muscle synthesis after resistance exercise, according to Matt Pikosky, director of research transfer, DMI. Nutrition-bar manufacturers have a great opportunity to reach women with products containing whey protein. Whey protein has a high biological value, meaning it is easily absorbed and used by the body, plus whey protein provides all the nine essential amino acids the body requires for good health.

Compared to most other proteins, whey protein contains more of the muscle-building branched-chain amino acids, including leucine, which has a unique role in stimulating the synthesis of new proteins, continues Pikosky. This is important news for women, young and old, who want to make the most of their daily diet to promote lean-muscle growth.

Concentrated whey protein ingredients also assist with improving the overall quality of nutrition bars, as they do not cause discoloration, and they improve texture by making the bars softer and more pliable than other protein sources.

Soy protein is the other most common protein source used in nutrition bars, especially in those designed for women. Unfortunately, some soy protein concentrates can contribute a gray-green color to the bar. However, adding soy protein ingredients to womens bars provides an attractive marketing angle, as the concentrated phytonutrients in soy protein have been shown to play a role in the prevention of breast cancer. Another appealing female benefit of consuming soy proteins is the positive effects of consumption on reducing the risk of bone loss and increasing bone density. 

Helping females feel full

Calorie-for-calorie, protein has also been shown to increase the feeling of fullness, or satiety, more than carbohydrates or fat.

In a 2008 consumer study conducted by The NPD Group, Port Washington, NY, and commissioned by DMI, 67% of respondents said that feeling full is important to them when trying to lose weight. Today, the issue of weight management is a significant concern for many, says Pikosky. Controlling hunger as a way to avoid reaching for unhealthy foods can be an appealing message for nutrition-bar manufacturers trying to reach adult female consumers.

Whey proteins neutral taste is well-suited for nutrition bars, according to Kara McDonald, director of ingredients marketing and communications, DMI. She adds: Whey proteins, particularly at the higher protein concentration, deliver a slightly sweet flavor that enables other flavors to develop to their full potential.

Further, the shelf life and organoleptic quality of protein nutrition bars have benefited from the introduction of specialized hydrolyzed whey protein mixes. Hydrolyzed whey proteins help prevent the typical "bar hardening" over time that occurs with high protein (15+ grams of protein per bar) nutrition bars. To maintain the crunchy texture with added protein in a nutrition bar, extruded whey protein, commonly referred to as whey crisps, can be substituted for rice-crisp products.

Select fiber ingredients also can contribute to satiety, and at the same time keep calories down in nutrition-bar applications. A University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, study found that natural resistant starches from high-amylose corn enhanced feelings of fullness and satisfaction more than other types of dietary fiber (Nutrition Research, 2009; (29(2):100-105). Natural resistant starch is easy to formulate into nutritional bars and clearly has weight-management advantages over other types of dietary fiber, says Rhonda Witwer, senior business development manager of nutrition, National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, NJ.

Dont forget flavor

When creating nutrition bars specifically for women, it would be easy to prioritize nutritional content over taste, says Margaret Walther, senior food scientist, Synergy Flavors Inc., Wauconda, IL. However, the importance of flavor should not be underestimated.

Synergy has developed flavors that complement or mask the taste of many common functional ingredients. For example, mango-type components might be employed to complement a whey product, says Walther, whereas sweet-brown components would be used to complement a product made with soy.  Mango flavor has milky lactonic notes in the background that pair well with the creamy notes in whey protein. Sweet-brown caramel notes help to overcome the beany off-notes in soy protein. Indulgent flavor combinations, such as raspberry crème brûlée, strawberry cheesecake and lemon meringue, transform nutrition bars into tasty, enjoyable treats for health-conscious women.

Another way to add flavor to bars is through the addition of fruit, especially those with female-friendly attributes. With one in five women developing a urinary tract infection at some point in their life, women often seek out foods made with North American cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon). This fruit contains unique A-type proanthocyanidins that disable certain E. coli bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract.

Unable to stick to the urinary tract walls, disease-causing organisms are harmlessly flushed from the body, reducing the risk of infection, says Kristen Girard, principal food scientist, Ocean Spray, Lakeville-Middleboro, MA. Further, the high antioxidant content of cranberries helps fight free radicals that can cause cellular damage throughout the body.

Donna Berry, president of Chicago-based Dairy & Food Communications, Inc., a network of professionals in business-to-business technical and trade communications, has been writing about product development and marketing for 13 years. Prior to that, she worked for Kraft Foods in the natural-cheese division. She has a B.S. in food science from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She can be reached at [email protected].



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