Over the past few months, as I went through the process of developing SF&WB’s annual “Top 50 Snack & Bakery Companies” list, I felt a renewed sense of admiration for the inherent power of merging true nutrition with indulgence. Such R&D gambits are a strategic balancing act, seeking to capitalize on the best of both worlds, a meeting of two wonderful minds that yields something greater than the sum of its parts: long-term brand loyalists.

Snack and nutrition bars are a study in healthy meets sweet, and leading snack bar producer KIND does a great job with this balancing act. While bars as a whole have not fared as well as some other snack and bakery products during the pandemic—primarily due to the loss of “grab-and-go” foods as vast swaths of the population work from home—KIND saw over $554 million in U.S. retail bar sales for the year, as measured by our data partner, IRI.

Meanwhile, candy companies have sought to add new revenue streams through expansion into snack and baking. Candy and confectionery giant Mars, Inc. has shown it knows the value of a diversified brand portfolio, adding brands in pantry staples and pet care over the past few years—and, most recently, bars, with its acquisition of KIND, a move that dictated adding Mars to our annual Top 50 list. It’s also notable that Mars is flirting with hybrid confectionery-bakery products with its launch of its Snickers Peanut Brownie bar, hitting stores in January.

Mars started courting KIND in 2017 when it made a minor investment in the company to expand its distribution reach. Mars also worked with KIND to enter a new category—frozen novelties—with an almond-centric frozen KIND bar that rests comfortably on the line separating health and indulgence. With KIND now fully in the Mars stable, it will be interesting to see what its R&D cooks up to continue globally expanding the brand.

Demand for purely indulgent and purely healthy products will continue. But astute combinations of the two can prove a force to be reckoned with.