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In the race for snack supremacy, energy, nutrition, diet and granola bars are the hands-down favorites. Leading the pack are specialty varieties that target specific nutritional needs, leverage interesting flavor profiles and help consumers practice portion control, industry observers note. Other categories are showing slowing demand, but [bars are] the fastest-growing snack category, said Sheila

In the race for snack supremacy, energy, nutrition, diet and granola bars are the hands-down favorites.

Leading the pack are specialty varieties that target specific nutritional needs, leverage interesting flavor profiles and help consumers practice portion control, industry observers note.

“Other categories are showing slowing demand, but [bars are] the fastest-growing snack category,” said Sheila McCusker, editor of Information Resources Inc.'s Times and Trends report. “There is a tremendously incredible amount of innovation here, and the category has sustained growth for a number of years now.”

The trend is evidenced in a 6% increase in snack bar sales during the past 26 weeks in Food Lion stores, according to Kimberly Blackburn, spokeswoman for the Salisbury, N.C.-based chain.

“People choose these items because they believe they are healthier choices than high-calorie or high-fat alternatives,” she said. “There are also customers who are looking for higher-protein options or performance bars that fit into their diet and workout regimen.”

Rather than positioning them beside more conventional snacks, Food Lion merchandises Glucerna bars for diabetics and Soy Joy bars, which are made with fruit and whole soy, in its health and beauty care aisle alongside bars from Kashi, Kellogg's, PowerBar, Slim-Fast and ZonePerfect. Food Lion's organic and specialty sets are home to Clif Bar varieties and other bars.

“We've also included these items on Healthier Living themed endcaps that tie in with our health-focused items,” added Blackburn.

Although the lines between energy, nutrition and diet bars continue to blur, very targeted offerings are also emerging, noted McCusker.

“The new Curves snack bars, for instance, are only 100 calories and completely aligned with the fitness brand, while General Mills' Fiber One delivers 35% of daily recommended fiber,” she said. “It's appealing to a broad group, especially those who are trying to increase their intake of fiber on a daily basis.”

Clif Bar also gears its bars toward specific shoppers, noted Stephanie Steiner, grocery manager for PCC Natural Markets, Seattle.

“Clif Kid ZBars are targeted at kids, while its Luna Bars are targeted at women,” she said. “Clif Mojo Bars are promoted as trail mix bars for outdoor enthusiasts, and Clif Builder Bars contain 20 grams of protein, so they're obviously for consumers who want to increase their protein intake.”

PCC includes in its snack bar sets these and other bars that meet its standards for all-natural ingredients and lack of trans fat and high-fructose corn syrup.

“PCC adult customers essentially started this trend by wanting sound nutrition in a convenient form, and other stores are following it,” said Steiner.

Sesame Energy Bars, Kasha Energy Bars, Tropical Fruit and Nut Bars and best-seller Harvest Fruit and Nut Bars are made in-house and sold from the nine-store cooperative's deli and bakery areas. PCC's Center Store sections are home to Cascadian Farms Organic Chewy Granola Bars, Earth's Best Sunny Days Snack Bars, Kashi Trail Mix Chewy Granola bars, and bars from Balance, Solo Bars and others.

Bars marketed by Clif, Odwalla and Larabar are PCC's fastest movers, noted Steiner.

“Nutrition bars sell better than cereal bars, since there are more brands and varieties and they appeal to more adults,” she said. “Sales are steady, but bars are not a huge growth category for PCC.”

Snack bars targeted to kids, however, are gaining momentum there.

“They're a preferred choice over cookies, chips and candy for kids' lunches and after-school snacks, because they provide more nutrition that keeps kids nourished longer,” Steiner said.

Snack bars are also pleasing smaller palates. Two dozen varieties — including Clif Kid Organic ZBar Peanut Butter, Nature's Path's Envirokidz Organic Berry Crispy Rice Bar and Country Choice's Organic Oatmeal Maple Squares — have earned PCC's Kid Picks seal of approval. For the past four years, the cooperative has facilitated the taste test program, whereby items liked by two-thirds of kid judges are tagged with a PCC Kid Picks shelf tag and listed on PCC's website.

Bar Hopping

Although shelf signs help draw attention to snack bars, segregated merchandising approaches are a must, given the varied occasions during which snack bars are consumed, noted David Morris, research director of food and beverage for Chicago-based Mintel.

A Mintel poll of PowerBar users revealed that one-third consume the bar to support physical activity, while three in 10 count on the bar to help meet their health and wellness objectives.

The potential to build incremental sales lies in each of these occasions, said Morris.

“The pre-workout energy occasion could become translated in the supermarket aisle by selling PowerBars in packs, rather than individually,” he said. Signage could also be used to suggest to customers that the bars should become an essential part of their daily workout routine, he added.

Bars that appeal to specific consumer demographics could also be grouped together.

According to the results of Mintel's Nutrition and Energy Bars study, health-driven participants who are over 45 are significantly more likely to look for bars with whole grains, omega-3s and a low glycemic index. Members of this age category also expressed more concern about the sugar content of bars.

The study also found that the youngest group of nutrition/energy bar eaters would probably be receptive to a marketing message that suggests health and energy bars may make up for less healthy food choices made throughout the day. That's because members of the segment were most likely to agree with the statement, “I think of nutrition and energy bars as a daily vitamin.”

Also, among the 86% of bar-eating respondents who said they select bars based on just health or on health and taste, high-protein and vitamin/mineral fortification are the most important health attributes, according to the study.

Another opportunity to grow snack bar sales exists at the front of the store, noted McCusker.

“Because people are eating these bars on the go, they lend themselves to impulse opportunities at the checkout,” she said. “I don't believe all food retail channels are taking advantage of that now.”

Ingles Markets dietitian Leah McGrath recognizes these bars' ability to help consumers stave off less healthy choices.

“They are a convenient way for so many truck drivers, police officers and salespeople to forestall trips to the drive-through for high-fat foods,” she said. “The ones I tend to recommend are Kashi, because I like their nutritional profile better than most others. I also tell people to stay away from meal replacement bars with sugar alcohols because of the GI problems that often result.”

McCusker noted that in addition to nutritional value, snack bars have an edge over conventional snacks that count corn and sugar among their main ingredients.

“Across a number of CPG categories, we're seeing big jumps in the price of bakery snacks, chocolate candy and corn,” said McCusker. “Relative to other snacks, [snack bars] offer a pretty good deal for shoppers.”

New product innovations are also driving sales. Citing Quaker's granola bites, McCusker noted that snack bars are taking on different forms and are leveraging unique flavor profiles, such as salty-and-sweet.

Odwalla's Sweet and Salty bars are a hit with shoppers at United Markets, said Suman Lawrence, marketing and education specialist for the living well department at the chain.

“They satisfy all of your senses,” she said.

Introduced last May, the “cold-formed” bars retail for around $1.39 and come in almond, peanut and trail mix varieties, according to Chris Brandt, vice president of marketing for Odwalla.

Cascadian Farms' Organic Chewy Granola Bars in peanut butter and chocolate chip, Bobo's all-natural Oat Bars, Clif ZBars and bars marketed by Nature's Path also sell well at United stores, Lawrence said.

“Many of these products offer whole grains, less sugar, and they are a less-processed product, so they offer a convenient way to satisfy health needs,” she said.

Healthy Snacking

Clif Bar is the supermarket share leader in the nutrition/health bar category.

Clif $38.9M 13.6
Clif Luna $29.4M -1.4
ZonePerfect $29.0M -5.58
Kellogg's Special K Protein $20.7M 220.0
PowerBar $19.7M -2.7
* Sales in the food channel during the latest 52 weeks ending March 23.
Source: Information Resources Inc.