The snack bar category has evolved dramatically over recent years, adapting to wider market trends and shedding its and dry tasteless reputation as the father figure of the early diet foods. Mintel’s Amanda White takes a look at the latest product developments within the sector and presents an overview of the current market trends.

Long gone is the time when dry and tasteless muesli bars were associated with the early days of healthy snacking. Today, different products cater for all tastes, purposes and occasions; they may, for example, be eaten before or after sport, or as an alternative to conventional breakfasts.

The snack bar category has also adapted well to some of the common trends in food categories, with the emergence of organic, energised, fortified and functional products over the last few years.

Looking at new product development (NPD) launch activity within the snack bars, energy bar and snack mixes sector suggests considerable growth in the number of NPD introductions for the current year. Indeed, according to Mintel‘s GNPD (Global New Product Developments), there were a total of 474 new product introductions within this sector for the whole of last year. By October 2001, however, there had already been some 664 introductions, demonstrating the high NPD activity.

For clarification, the snack bars sector includes cereal bars, which are basically cereal-based (usually made of oats) and may also contain other ingredients such as peanuts or chocolate, muesli bars and meal replacement bars. Varieties in this sector may also be rice, nut or fruit based.

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Energy & sports bars are, meanwhile, positioned either as a sports product, and therefore particularly suited for the time ante- or post- workout, or they carry some kind of energy claim.

Products in the snack mixes segment, by definition, do not come in bar form and typically include some kind of dried fruit and/or nuts or cereals.

Regional trends

Regional trends show North America to be a key area for NPD activity, as this area alone accounted for some 60% of product launches during 2000. Europe is starting to catch up with the US, however. New product activity in Europe is expected to double by the end of the current year, accounting for over 30% of the category introductions; an increase that comes in conjunction with a drop of 15% in new product activity share in North America.

Healthy snacking?

Looking specifically at snack bars shows that their main claim, as may be expected, is health related – a trend that lies in the nature of the product. Snack bars can be, and to a large degree are, perceived as a sensible alternative to indulgence-oriented chocolate confectionery bars, as well as being a convenient breakfast solution. It is therefore not only the traditional muesli bars that are flagged as being low in fat, vitamin-enriched or high in calcium.

Corny pocket frühstückRecent muesli and cereal/breakfast bar launches that incorporate such claims include Schwartauer Werke‘s new milk variety that was added to the Corny Pocket Frühstück (breakfast) range earlier this year in Germany. Picked up in spring 2001, the product consists of two layers of cereal bar sandwiched together by a plain milk filling. High in calcium, the bars were an addition to the already existing strawberry-filled variety.

Also introduced in the spring of 2001 was a line extension to Arcor‘s Light Cereal Mix bars. The company introduced to the Argentine market a new light, Apple-flavoured variety claiming to be low in calories, sugar and fat.

Earlier on in the year, Lovells launched their Rooster Cereal Bar in the UK, which is available in two flavours: chocolate chip and apricot. Made from oat flakes and crisped rice, it promises to be 90% fat-free.

Cereal giant Kellogg’s Krave Chocolate Peanut and Chocolate Delight Refueling Snack Bars meanwhile benefit from 11 vitamins and minerals. Despite hoping to attract the health conscious snacker the products also contain nougat and crisp rice. Launched in the first quarter of this year in the USA, the bars provide a good source of protein and calcium, despite their rather indulgent positioning.

Indulgence snacking?

To counteract the still prevalent stereotype that muesli/cereal bars are good for you but have the tendency to taste like cardboard, some products include particularly indulgence-oriented claims and ingredients. In conjunction with distinct health and fortification promises, this assures the consumer that the product is not only healthy but has an appealing taste. Snack products representing this trend and launched over the last 6 months include Asda‘s (private label) muffin bars, which were launched in the UK during the spring of this year. Available in three flavours, Double Chocolate, Cinnamon & Apple and Banana & Nut, all of the bars have added vitamins and calcium.

Soy what’s next?

Today, it appears that enrichment/fortified claims are well established and thus do not represent a major USP anymore. Still new, however, are soy-based products, representing a trend that gained importance during 2000 in the US. The USFDA approval of cholesterol-lowering claims for soy, and the recent publicity about other potential benefits  (including the prevention of heart diseases), have created growing consumer interest in soy foods both in the US and Europe. Recent snacks launches include:

Naturade‘s Chocolate Fudge and Chocolate Peanut Butter varieties were added to the company’s existing line of Total Soy Bars in Canada this year. The chocolate fudge variety was also picked up in Singapore in the Autumn of this year. First launched in the US during late Spring, Soulutions to health, inc.‘s Healthy Soylutions Nutrition Bar is now available in several varieties including soynut butter crunch and Cocoa Soy Crisp and Apple Cinnamon, Soysation are made with non-GMO soy, are low in sugar and marketed as suitable for vegetarians.

Hain-Celestial Group‘s Healthy Valley Solar Bars are available in three varieties in the US, and flavours include: chocolate, berry, and peanut butter. They are packed in plastic wrappers that feature the soy protein heart logo to communicate the health benefits of soy.

Organic answers

Organic or ‘all natural’ product introductions are often launched in conjunction with enrichment claims:

First introduced in the UK in the early summer, Organic Snack Bars from Clearspring are available in three varieties: sesame, sesame & raisin, and almond. The snacks are crunchy and full of natural energy. Free of added sugar and gluten, the bars are suitable for vegetarians and vegans and are 100% natural.

Gilly Bars has introduced The Original Seed Crunch, a selected seed snack bar in South Africa. It is preservative-free and packaged in a plastic wrapper.

Tasti Products has meanwhile launched a new range of snack bars in New Zealand. The Muffin Bars are available in a variety of flavours including: Apple & Bran, Blueberry Delight and Carrot Spice. They are cholesterol-, artificial colourings- and flavourings-free.

Functional foods

In terms of functionality, UK high street retailer Marks & Spencer’s launched its ’& More’ Cereal Bar during 2001. Apricot & Date Cereal Bars are available in a box of three bars, all containing soy protein and four daily servings claim to reduce cholesterol by at least 10%. McNeil’s Benecol Snack Bar in the UK, and Uncle Tobys’ Logicol Breakfast Bars are available in Australia. Again, these products claim to have cholesterol-lowering abilities and contain plant sterols/stanols.

In terms of positioning, recent snack bar launches certainly include a large percentage of products that address health conscious consumers and those who are looking for a snack that provides additional benefits such as fortification. However, only a very few of those products are geared at particular demographic groups, such as children, teenagers, females or males. Recent examples of this include AdvantEdge Carb control Nutrition Bar, which is targeted towards women in the US and available in three flavours: Apple Cinnamon, Blueberry, and Lemon Cheesecake. These bars include 24-26g of protein, 2.5g of carbohydrate, 5g of fat, and 26 vitamins and minerals. Also targeted specifically at women is Clif Bar‘s Toasted Nuts ‘N Cranberry, extension of its Luna Nutrition Bar.

Meanwhile, Sweetlife‘s Nutricious Raisin Rice Bar is positioned as a children’s product. Available in the Netherlands, this chocolate flavoured cereal product is made with coloured puffed rice and raisins.

By Amanda White, Mintel