Setting the bar on bars, protein is the predominant trend in today’s bar segment, but it’s the personal stories of some of the products’ makers that inspire the latest and greatest creations.

Consumers rely on bars these days for more than just a quick and easy snack. They expect bars to be healthful, clean and full of nourishing ingredients. “Consumers are increasingly ingredient-focused” says Colleen Kavanagh, CEO of ZEGO, San Francisco. “They still want something that tastes great, but with ingredients that give them more of what they know they should be eating and less of everything else.”

ZEGO is dedicated to educating consumers on what they’re eating and strives for excellence in the bar category. “Overall, most bar companies don’t understand how to design a truly healthy bar,” Kavanagh states. “They combine ingredients according to marketing surveys, not what’s best for health. And [their bars] may have sugar levels similar to a candy bar. ZEGO sets a higher standard for natural snacks because our bars are made without the top eight allergens and gluten.”

The company not only tests every batch of its output for allergens and gluten, it also includes QR codes—or Z-Codes as ZEGO calls them—on each package so consumers can see the test results of that particular batch. “We want to give consumers the info they need so they can make an informed decision and have peace of mind that their bar won’t give them an allergic reaction or cause digestive upset,” says Kavanagh.

Why is creating a clean bar so important to Kavanagh? She has celiac disease. And two of her three kids are gluten- and lactose-intolerant as well as sugar-sensitive. Trying to give her children healthy, high-protein snacks has been difficult, as their school banned nut products.

“Seeds were a natural substitute for nuts because they have a similarly healthy nutrition profile, but most people don’t really like eating handfuls of seeds,” she explains. “I decided to make a healthy, delicious seed-based snack in a convenient form that held up to the demands from the backpack to the glove box and wouldn’t trigger any of the common allergies, sensitivities or intolerances.”

Key ingredients in ZEGO’s Sunflower and Chocolate bar offerings are sunflower seeds, quinoa, brown rice flour, pea and rice protein, brown rice and tapioca syrup, cacao nibs and cocoa powder, organic agave and San Francisco Bay sea salt.

“Most food companies have been keeping the allergen community at arm’s length,” asserts Kavanagh. “We embrace that community. They are the very people who need nutritious snack foods the most. Those are our people. We want to take care of them.”


The protein scene

To some people, creating a healthful, reliable bar means making it allergen-free. To others, it means ensuring that a product has added health benefits. To achieve this, many manufacturers are looking to protein.

“Many bar consumers are looking for nonGMO, gluten-free and higher amounts of protein,” says Lizanne Falsetto, CEO and founder of thinkThin. “The challenge isn’t just adding protein, but making the protein taste good.”

The Santa Monica, CA-based company has been big in the bars-for-women market, and recognizes that protein is a huge piece of creating a healthful product for its key demographic, which is why it recently launched thinkThin Lean Protein and Fiber bars. Each 150 calorie bar delivers 10 g. of protein and 5 g. of fiber, while remaining a gluten-free product. The bars are available in Chocolate Almond Brownie, Chunky Chocolate Peanut, Salted Caramel, Honey Drizzle Peanut and Cinnamon Bun White Chocolate.

“A lot of consumers, particularly women, think of our category as protein bars for body builders or energy bars for serious athletes,” says Falsetto. “They don’t realize that nutrition bars like thinkThin can help keep you satisfied, help give you energy throughout the day or provide a nutritious alternative to a sweet craving.”

Turning consumers’ biases about high-protein bars is one challenge many producers are working to overcome. Fortunately, people living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle can use these new bar products to augment some of the protein missing from their diets.

“Once considered the go-to food source for endurance and performance athletes, bars touting high protein counts are now increasingly desired items for the everyday consumer,” echoes P.J. Roustan, director of marketing for Perfect Bar, San Diego. “More specifically, shoppers are looking for alternative protein sources beyond meat and dairy, that offer creative flavor combinations, textures and ingredients free of preservatives, refined sugars and GMOs.”

Perfect Bar is known for its high-protein bars, as that’s what the company was founded upon. CEO Bill Keith’s father was searching for a healthy, on-the-go snack for his large family, which included Keith and his 12 brothers and sisters.

“As kids, we hated taking our whole-food vitamin supplements, so dad thought he could hide the taste in a delicious blend of organic peanut butter and honey,” states Keith. “Needless to say, it worked, we loved them and the Perfect Bar was born.”

Perfect Bar is available in Fruit and Nut, Cranberry Crunch, Almond Butter and newly debuted Almond Acai and Almond Coconut, Perfect Bar’s first vegan and paleo-friendly flavor recipe.

“Perfect Bar has also created 100-calorie minis in Peanut Butter and Almond Butter flavors for consumers looking for a quick snack that won’t spoil their dinner,” adds Roustan. “We want to offer our consumers portion-controlled options to meet their lifestyle needs, whether that be a complete meal replacement or between-meal snack.”

But if you’re looking for Perfect Bar in the bakery or cereal aisles, you’ll have to move to somewhere cooler. That’s because Perfect Bars can be found in the refrigerated dairy section. “Refrigerated? Yes, indeed,” says Roustan. “Perfect Bar’s ingredient label boasts an array of more than 20 organic superfoods without a single chemical preservative, artificial ingredient or refined sugar.”


Going for the bold and exotic

Nuts and seeds are an easy way for companies to incorporate organic protein in their products. After a while, however, consumers may demand something a little more unique from their bars. That’s where Taste of Nature Foods Inc. comes in. The Toronto company creates 100% certified organic, nonGMO bars in enticing options such as Argentina Peanut Plains, Brazilian Nut Fiesta, California Almond Valley, Niagara Apple Country, Nova Scotia Blueberry Fields, Quebec Cranberry Carnival, Polynesian Coconut Breeze and Louisiana Pecan Parade. For the more adventurous consumer, the company offers an exotic line with options including Caribbean Ginger Island, Himalayan Goji Summit, Mediterranean Pistachio Passion and Persian Pomegranate Garden.

Consumers have a strong demand for bolder, more innovative options, as seen by the rise of sriracha as a flavor in various snack segments. Another big flavor trend is that of sweet and savory, and KIND Healthy Snacks, New York, expanded its KIND Nuts and Spices line in response.

“KIND Nuts and Spices were introduced in 2012 and are healthy snack bars made with whole nuts, flavored with delicious spices that have only 5 g. of sugar or less naturally, meaning no artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols,” points out Katie Nahoum, senior brand manager.

Caramel Almond Sea Salt and Dark Chocolate Nuts and Sea Salt are the sweet and savory additions to other offerings in this line: Dark Chocolate Mocha Almond; Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan; Madagascar Vanilla Almond; Maple Glazed Pecan and Sea Salt; Dark Chocolate Chili Almond; and Cashew and Ginger Spice.

However, KIND could not ignore the surge in protein-packed bars, which is why it recently unveiled its Strong and Kind line, the company’s first-ever savory snack line. “Because not all protein is created equal, we use whole almonds, seeds and pea protein to give you 10 g. of natural protein, and all nine essential amino acids,” says Nahoum. The bars are available in Honey Smoked BBQ, Roasted Jalapeno, Honey Mustard, Hickory Smoked and Thai Sweet Chili.


Beyond breakfast

While some manufacturers are turning to nuts and seeds to increase protein in their bars, General Mills, Minneapolis, has turned to Greek yogurt.

“Beyond breakfast, consumers are turning to snack bars as a source of protein to help curb hunger throughout the day,” says Ally Delgado, associate marketing manager, snacks innovation. “Nature Valley’s Protein Chewy Granola Bars and Greek Yogurt Protein Granola Bars were developed for consumers looking to add more protein to their diet.”

The Nature Valley Protein Chewy Granola Bars are available in Peanut Butter Chocolate, Coconut Almond, Peanut, Almond and Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Nut, while the Greek Yogurt Protein Granola Bars come in Mixed Berry and Strawberry options.

Nature Valley also recently introduced a Fruteria bar in Strawberry Apple, as a response to the consumer demand for ingredients they can truly see in their food.

Some companies have spent years creating bars, while others are newer to the market. Rudi’s Organic Bakery, Boulder, CO, found its first foray into the bar segment to be a natural expansion of its current offerings.

“So many bars out there are loaded with sugar, so it’s important to seek out a bar with good, clean ingredients,” says Denise Day, senior brand manager. “Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery Cherry Almond Bars, officially launched in January, have just a touch of sweetness and fulfilling flavor that everyone will love, whether they need to eat gluten-free or not.” Made with cherries, almonds and brown rice crisps, the gluten-free bar contains 3 g. of protein, 2 g. of fiber at only 120 calories.

As the gluten-free market continues to grow, so does the consumer perception of gluten-free products.

“Lola Granola Bar originally didn’t add gluten-free to its packaging because of the negative taste profile consumers associated with gluten-free,” admits Mary Molina, founder and CEO of the Croton Falls, NY, company. “We realized consumers who were gluten-free weren’t choosing Lola Granola Bar. Once we changed the packaging, we saw sales increase.”

Molina originally created Lola Granola Bars to feed her family. She found that most bars on the market were drenched in chocolate and had added rice or soy fillers, and she wanted something nutritionally dense, allergen-friendly and nonGMO. Consumers can recognize her personal stake in her product, as all the bars are named after her children.

“The first flavor I created was Cranberry Almond, mostly because it was what I had in my cupboards at the time,” explains Molina. “I named it Lola because, even though I made it for Ernie [my husband], I made it so that my daughter, Lola, could eat it too.”

Soon after came the Ruby (cranberries), Ellie (date and cashew) and Enzo (almonds and cashew) bars, named after Molina’s children, and the Nathan (blueberry almond), named for her nephew. All the bars contain a base made from locally sourced oats, honey, flax seed meal, sunflower seeds and coconut.

“Ours are different from any other granola bars, because besides our ingredients, the texture is moist and more flavorful,” opines Molina.

As stated earlier, many new bars on the market are being created to fit a specific nutritional purpose. INBalance Health Corp.’s INBars are no exception.

“Initally, we created the INBar to provide a chemical- and allergen-free snack that wouldn’t spike the blood sugar for Type-2 diabetics and those who wanted to lose weight,” says Dr. Don Verhulst, chief science officer. In seeing the response to its bars, the company noticed that its target market expanded to fitness-oriented and gluten- and allergen-free consumers.

“Our most popular flavors are Chocolate Fudge and Chocolate Mint, but the two new flavors are already in the race for top sellers,” says Verhulst. The new INBar flavors he alludes to are Cinnamon Swirl and Chocolate Butter Crunch. Other offerings include Strawberry Banana and Cherry Chocolate.

While protein is the overall trend in the bar category, all manufacturers are seeing the benefits of providing a snack that fits a niche market, whether it’s allergen-free, exotic flavorings or all-natural. Many other companies could look to the bar segment to see what’s next for snack and bakery products.