Uneven  Bars
By Lynn Petrak
Manufacturers of all sorts belly up to the bar category with a slew of new nutrition and snack products, to varying degrees of success.
Nutrition and snack bars, by their nature, are loaded with all sorts of ingredients. That pretty much mirrors the category as a whole. In fact, supermarkets, mass merchandisers, convenience stores, health food stores, fitness shops and other retail outlets are packed with an ever-increasing array of bar brands, flavors and formats.
(Latest 52 weeks ending Nov. 27, 2005)
Category Dollar Sales (in millions)
All Other Snack/Granola $21,580.9
Breakfast/Cereal/Snack $541,005.8
Granola $613,889.7
Nutritional/Intrinsic Health Value $525,042.0
Rice Snack Squares $118,818.5
TOTAL $1,820.3
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc., Total U.S. — F/D/MX (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart)
Indeed, just visit a grocery store and see how everyone who’s anyone wants to get into this polymorphous category. In the nutrition bar section, often located near the health and pharmacy aisles, the shelves teem with products made by companies ranging from vitamin manufacturers and mom-and-pop startup operations to candy conglomerates, such as The Hershey Co.
A few aisles over, in the snack and cereal sections, scores of other bar products beckon shoppers, again reflecting a diverse group of producers that spans peanut butter companies, cereal giants and grassroots health-food organizations. In many outlets, energy bars and snack bars also are available in impulse-buy areas near the checkout line. And that’s just in the supermarket channel.
Recent market research underscores the fact that in terms of sales, this segment isn’t easily pinned down. According to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI), while the overall bar category grew 3.3% last year to reach the $1.82 billion mark, brands within each subcategory experienced a wide swing in sales.
Within the breakfast/cereal group, for instance, one new branded product jumped 1,433.7% in sales, and another climbed nearly 244%, while three other top brands lost a good percentage in sales during 2005. In the granola bar segment, six of the top 10 brands got a boost in sales, while four recorded a decline.
IRI also reports that sales in the nutritional/intrinsic health segment dropped off 11%, although six of the top 10 brands experienced an uptick in sales, ranging from 0.9% to 990.8%. Similar splits in sales are reflected in data for rice snack squares and “other” snack/granola bars, reflecting these dynamic categories’ fluid state of affairs.
Behind the numbers, why have so many disparate manufacturers opted to become competitive in the bar category, and why have they encountered varying degrees of success? Maybe this mature category has kept growing because it constantly reinvents itself to be on-trend.
 “As consumers are becoming more health conscious, they are looking for food products that will improve their nutritional intake and wellness,” says Jill Saletta, director of corporate communications for Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. “We are committed to delivering products that fit into their on-the-go lifestyles, with convenient packaging and tasty foods.”
Jennifer Ramstad, marketing manager for Petaluma, Calif.-headquartered Barbara’s Bakery, Inc., agrees.
“Convenience and portability continue to be important to many consumers. Bars are a great vehicle to get great nutrition for folks with limited time and who eat on the go,” she remarks.
Customer-driven Innovation
To be sure, there has been no shortage of new snack and nutrition bars introduced over the past year. These introductions reflect some of the more general trends affecting the category.
Take, for example, the spate of new nutrition and energy bars designed to compete with candy bars. Longtime category brand leader and Nestlé-owned brand PowerBar, Inc., for instance, rolled out Powerbar Triple Threat, touted as “a fuel bar that tastes like a candy bar.” The bar is available in Caramel Peanut Fusion, Chocolate Caramel Fusion and Caramel Peanut Crisp varieties.
For its part, longtime nutrition brand Slim-Fast has tried to capitalize on dessert and confection flavors with its broad line of Optima nutritional snack, meal and breakfast bars, including new cookie and muffin-inspired varieties, as well as candy-like flavors, such as Chewy Chocolate Nougat, Rich Chewy Caramel and Rich Chocolate Brownie. And in the reduced-carbohydrate subcategory, Boca Raton, Fla.-based CarbSolutions is offering cookie dough and brownie-based flavors.
(Latest 52 weeks ending Nov. 27, 2005)
Rank Brand Dollar Volume (in millions) % Change Dollar Share
1 Quaker Chewy $140,066.4 +2.5 22.8
2 Nature Valley $114,603.4 +8.3 18.7
3 Private Label $56,736.3 +38.1 9.2
  TOTAL* $613,889.7 +12.3 100.0
*Including brands not shown
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc., Total U.S. — F/D/MX (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart)
In addition to venerable nutrition bar players going for more confection-based appeal, candy-bar makers have tried to lend some of their marketing muscle and consumer cache to the arena. The Snickers Marathon line, Hershey’s SmartZone line and Payday’s PRO line of high protein and nutrition bars are a few examples; each brand has continued to add products to its respective mix and invest in aggressive marketing campaigns.
Another emerging hallmark of the category, encompassing both the nutrition and breakfast/snack bar sectors, is the ongoing splintering of target consumers. More than ever, demographics play an important role in how products are developed and marketed.
Many snack bars are geared with women in mind. The LUNA line from Berkeley, Calif.-based Clif Bar & Co., for example, is aimed at health-conscious females. The latest addition to that series is a new Caramel Nut Brownie variety, in keeping with the brand’s positioning since its 1999 launch. “What LUNA brought to the category is a more healthful way for a bit of indulgence — you get your ‘fix’ and feel good about it,” says vice president of brand marketing Michelle Ferguson of the LUNA bars, which are fortified with folic acid and soy protein and have between 170 and 180 calories per serving.
The Snickers Marathon series also has an energy bar fortified for women, with nutrients like folic acid, Vitamins C, E, B12 and B6, along with extra calcium and 10 gm. of protein. PowerBar’s answer to the female buyer, in turn, is the relatively recently introduced PowerBar Pria Complete Nutrition bar, which supplies up to 50% of a woman’s recommended daily value of calcium, as well as fiber, protein and a host of other nutrients, all for about 170 calories.
Within the female-driven segment, there has been further bull’s-eye marketing. A line of Oh Mama! bars, started in 2005 by Baltimore, Md.-based health professional and mother of two Beth Vincent, for instance, has been specifically formulated for pregnant women and nursing mothers.
“It’s perfect for a bunch of reasons,” Vincent says of the bars, which are sold in bright pink packages in Chocolate Peanut Butter, Frosted White Raspberry and Yogurt Honey flavors. “Nutritionally, it was very well thought out, and we spent about a year and half working with doctors and nutritionists, looking at data to see what pregnant women get in their diet and what they don’t. Our goal was to focus on the holes in their diet and filling those holes,” she adds.
Also getting into the maternal market is the Ensure brand from the Ross Products division of Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, Ill. Known for other nutrition products, including nutrition/meal replacement drinks and puddings, Ensure is offering a Healthy Mom snack bar in Fudge Graham and Chocolate Chocolate Chip varieties for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
Children have become a leading target for snack and nutrition bars, too. In the nutrition bar subcategory, Clif Bar last year kicked off a series of ZBaR products formulated for the youngest consumers.
“We are just beginning to explore that area and are finding that Mom is definitely looking for more healthful choices,” says Ferguson of the kid-oriented, organic baked whole grain energy bar, available in Peanut Butter, Chocolate Brownie and Caramel Apple. “We believe that there is a lot of potential.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, meanwhile, that the cereal/breakfast/rice snack segments are burgeoning with kid-targeted options. The Skippy brand, which has a lot of built-in equity among young consumers, now offers snack bars in Peanut Butter, Peanut Butter & Fudge, Peanut Butter & Marshmallow and Peanut Butter & Strawberry varieties.
Rice snack bars, which started with traditional crisped rice cereal-and-marshmallow basics, have continued to expand as well. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats line brand, for instance, today includes variations such as Butterscotch, Chewy Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Yummies, Chocolate Mint, Confetti, Gold Medal Sundae Peanut Butter, Spicy Raisin and Tropical.
Bolder, Unique Flavors
Beyond demographics (in addition to women and children, active young men, Baby Boomers and seniors are current and potential subjects), the nutrition and snack bar arena has seen the emergence of bolder, more unique flavor profiles. Clif Bar, for its part, recently created fruit and nut combinations for its new Nectar series or organic bars and has had success with its seasonal flavors: Iced Gingerbread and Pumpkin.
“Chocolate and peanuts has always been a mainstay of this category, but people get bored with the same old things,” Ferguson notes.
(Latest 52 weeks ending Nov. 27, 2005)
Rank Brand Dollar Volume (in millions) % Change Dollar Share
1 Zone Perfect $53,321.5 +9.1 10.2
2 Clif Luna $34,377.8 +0.9 6.5
3 Atkins Advantage $30,605.5 -56.9 5.8
4 Slim Fast Optima $28,845.0 +990.8 5.5
5 Clif $28,367.3 +25.0 5.4
  TOTAL* $525,042.0 -11.0 100.0
*Including brands not shown
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc., Total U.S. — F/D/MX (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart)
Barbara’s Bakery has shaken things up with its new fruit and yogurt bar. “The yogurt component is a way to differentiate this product from other bars currently on the market,” Ramstad says. “It provides a nice flavor, that is not overly sweet, and has a creamy, appealing texture.”
Finally, not to be left out of a new product discussion, are the increasingly diverse formats for breakfast/snack and nutrition bars. One notable area has been the creation of more snack-size portions. In the first few weeks of 2006, Kellogg’s launched Special K Snack Bites, bite-sized clusters of lightly textured, cereal-based snacks with 90 calories per portion, available in Strawberry and Vanilla flavors.
“These were created especially for afternoon snacking—one of the hardest times of the day to control eating and stay on track,” Saletta says. “They are also perfect for the on-the-go consumer looking for an option that is better for you.” In the next few weeks, Kellogg’s also is unveiling Granola Munch ‘ems, which are bite-size, triangular-shaped granola snacks in Honey Oat and Brown Sugar Cinnamon flavors.
Balance Bar Food Co. also sees an upside in downsizing is the. The California division of Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods Inc. recently unveiled its BALANCE 100 Calorie Nutrition Energy Snack Bar. Sold in Caramel Crisp, Peanut Butter Crisp and Vanilla Caramel Crisp varieties, the 100-calorie bar will be available at food retailers beginning in April. For Kraft, 100 calories seems to be the magic number in targeting diet-conscious consumers. The company has earlier introduced 100-calorie packs of many of its top-selling cookie and cracker brands.
As for the rest of 2006, expect a further blurring of the lines in this eclectic category.
“We do try to bring out new products and new flavors every year because it keeps us fresh, and it’s what our customers expect of us,” Ferguson says.
Saletta agrees: “Consumer demand and innovation is what drives our business.” SF&WB