More than once over the course of my ongoing research into the expansive bars category through the years, I’ve found myself reeling in the baffling array of new concepts that continually stream onto the market. Peruse the multiple bars sections of almost any grocery store—often in snack, breakfast, natural and pharmacy aisles—and the choices are staggering.

Consider the segments: snack, granola, breakfast, cereal, nutritional, intrinsic health value (think sports-nutrition protein powerhouses, but also true meal-replacement bars). And within each of those segments, bars gain further definition through targeted demographic variables like gender and age—Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Generation Z… Consider established and emerging shopper preferences for traits like gluten-free, clean-label, non-GMO, organic, natural—not to mention price point, geographical inclinations, kosher, allergens—and your head starts to swim. Add in flavor profiles—classic, fruity, salty, sweet, savory—you’re losing focus, spinning…

And everything goes black.

Yet the category continues to show growth—and most market-research findings align with continued growth and diversity of bars across the board in the coming years. But ever year, multiple bar concepts fail. And every year, a new batch of attempts surface.

It’s times like these where a well-trained focus ably serves new concept research and development—generally true across most snack and bakery categories, but particularly in one as potentially baffling as bars.

Companies like The Hartman Group accomplish such grand feats of focus for food-industry clients all the time using analytical tools like The Hartman World Model, which Laurie Demeritt, CEO of the group, has pioneered over the course of her career (see p. 36 for this month’s Sustainability column, written by Laurie, now a regular contributor to Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery).

Analytical tools like The World Model seek to unearth key demographic discoveries by analyzing where consumers shop in terms of their relationship with specific aspects of health and wellness—either in the core (early adopters, trendsetters), mid-level  (not as committed as the core, but essential to a trend’s success ) or periphery (only casual, minimal involvement with a given trend).  Analysts then map each of the variables within the study framework—perhaps current consumer relationships with food trends like clean label, organic and sustainability—to determine where they sit within the model today.

Other similar analytical models can just as easily aid the honing-in process as product development teams go through the steps of identifying target consumers for the proposed product, subsequently vetting formats, flavor profiles, ingredients, packaging, branding and so on.

With bars, it seems that nearly everyone is a potential target consumer. But how well those bars actually align with their intended audience will prove instrumental in product, line and brand longevity.

 Regular interaction between manufacturers and suppliers is also instrumental to keeping vital trend traits top-of-mind—a feat we strive toward each month in these pages, and every day on Webinars and live events are also key to maintaining your focus (our recent webinar on gluten-free was a great success, and we have State of the Industry, food safety and better-for-you webinars on tap through 2015). In terms of live events, the upcoming IFT Annual Meeting & Expo is always a fantastic launching point for new ideas and discovering the latest and greatest ingredients. To that end, I hope to see you on the show floor in Chicago.