SupplySide West: Coconut curry, bean flours — even bison — star in bar innovations

by Jeff Gelski
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LAS VEGAS – The Bison Bacon Bar from Epic really has bison meat in it.

“It’s basically jerky, but in a bar form,” said Mary C. Mulry, Ph.D., president of FoodWise, Inc., a consulting firm for the natural and organic industry.

Dr. Mulry gave the Bison Bacon Bar as one example of how the bar category, much like the beverage category, may offer fertile ground for ingredient innovation. Dr. Mulry and Katharin “Barr” Hogen of Barr-None Consulting, which also works in the natural and organic industry, spoke about the bar category Nov. 13 in a SupplySide West presentation in Las Vegas.

Millennials are more likely to try out new ethnic flavors, such as coconut curry, in bars, said Ms. Hogen, who previously worked for Odwalla Inc. and as a chef in San Francisco. Bean flours are showing up in gluten-free bars, she said. Consumers in the natural category especially are choosing gluten-free bars that have been third-party certified.

Some bar manufacturers have decided to “make the ingredient the star,” Ms. Hogen said. They are selling hemp bars, chia bars and garbanzo bean bars in which the ingredient is part of the product’s name.

“I think there’s going to be a kale bar soon,” she said.

Neither speaker was keen on bars that have yogurt coatings, including Greek yogurt coatings. They said the coatings add calories. Ms. Hogen said while bars in general have about 180 calories, bars promoted for Greek yogurt may have 240 calories.

“They work,” she said of bars with yogurt coatings. “They definitely keep you full for a long time.”

Regulatory issues may affect bars.

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is found in coatings in many bars in the conventional market although not nearly as much in bars in the natural and organic market, Dr. Mulry said. The Food and Drug Administration in the Nov. 8 Federal Register proposed a rule that would ban partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in products because it causes artificial trans fat.

“There’s going to be a need to reformulate,” Dr. Mulry said.

Working with co-packers may increase the risk of food safety recalls. Dr. Mulry said bar manufacturers either should make the decision on whether a product is ready for shipment or train co-packers on how to make the decision. Ms. Hogen said every batch should be tested for Salmonella and water activity

“If it ships and something happens on the consumer end, you’re responsible,” Ms. Hogen said.

Ms. Hogen and Dr. Murly cited statistics from SPINS, which provides information on the natural products category, to show the growth of bars. According to SPINS, the natural category for bars has a 26% growth rate and has become a $6 billion category. SPINS lists 171 brands and 900 stock-keeping units in the category. The top 16 brands represent more than 80% of the category.

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