A bar breakdown

by Eric Schroeder
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Nutrition and health bars are in demand, but other snack bars fight for footing.


Snacking is a moral right. That was one of the key takeaway points delivered by June Jo Lee, vice-president of strategic insights at the Hartman Group, at the recent Whole Grains Council’s Breaking Barriers conference held Nov. 9-11 at the Hyatt Boston Harbor.

In a presentation on whole grain trends and consumer attitudes, Ms. Lee talked at length about how consumers are “eating throughout the day.”

“We are actually spreading our calories throughout the day,” Ms. Lee said. “We’re debundling our meals and eating more snacks.”

Bars certainly fit well into that eating strategy. Whether it is breakfast bars, granola bars or health/nutrition bars, bars offer a convenient form in which consumers may get their energy.

Currently, consumers seem most inclined to turn to health/nutrition bars. In the 52 weeks ended Nov. 2, dollar sales in the bars category totaled $5,499,107,328, up 2.3% from the same period a year ago, on a 1% increase in unit sales to 2,171,997,184, according to Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm. Leading the growth were nutritional/intrinsic health bars, which posted a 9% gain in dollar sales during the period to $2,559,405,312 on 6% unit sales growth.

Clif Bar & Co., Emeryville, Calif., is the nation’s largest provider of nutrition/health bars, and posted a nearly 12% increase in dollar sales during the 52 weeks ended Nov. 2, according to I.R.I. Meanwhile, the No. 2 and No. 3 players in the market, General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, and Kind L.L.C., New York, posted year-over-year dollar sales gains of 4% and 82%, respectively.

The nutrition/health bar category not only has benefited from strength from its segment leaders, but also smaller companies that have ramped up new product introductions. This fall, Balance Bar released Bare, a new line of nutrition bars made with whole nuts and fruit. The bars are available in three flavors: mixed berry nut, sea salt caramel nut, and sweet and spicy nut. In addition, Bare bars are non-G.M.O., certified gluten-free, soy free, and vegetarian. Los Angeles-based thinkThin rolled out lean protein and fiber bars. The bars contain 10 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber and 150 calories. The bars are gluten-free and contain 5 grams of sugar. The flavor varieties include chocolate almond brownie, chunky salted peanut, salted caramel, honey drizzle peanut and cinnamon bun white chocolate. thinkThin lean protein and fiber bars are available nationwide. Finally, Atlanta-based Kill Cliff launched a new line of protein bars. The bars come in four flavors: chocolate chip cookie, salted caramel and almond, strawberries and cream, and mocha almond brownie. All of the bars contain 20 to 21 grams of protein, 13 to 16 grams of fiber, and 2 to 4 grams of net carbohydrates. Kill Cliff protein bars don’t contain artificial colors and flavors, added sugar, or gluten.

Consumers have been less inclined to buy bars without a health halo. Dollar sales of breakfast/cereal/snack bars fell nearly 3% in the 52 weeks ended Nov. 2, according to I.R.I., while dollar sales of granola bars dipped 2% and dollar sales of “all other” snack/granola bars fell 29% during the period.

Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. is a leader in the breakfast/cereal/snack bars segment, but the company has taken a hit over the past year as products marketed under the Special K brand have failed to resonate. Company executives have indicated in recent months that greater focus will be given to rejuvenating the brand.

John Bryant, chairman and chief executive officer, said during an Oct. 30 conference call with analysts that a shift in approach for Special K will move the brand away from a weight-loss focus.

“We have communicated Special K around dieting, ‘lose weight over a two-week period,’ and we really need to move that to a weight wellness discussion,” Mr. Bryant said. “(We need to) move away from reduced calories and to the food itself having tremendous nutrient benefits. That requires us to change the communications to focus on that, but also to make some food improvements, which is what we’re doing in cereal, in Special K bars, in cracker chips.”

Another company facing challenges is Rickland Orchards, Fairfield, N.J. Launched in 2012 and acquired by B&G Foods in late 2013, the Rickland Orchards brand of nutrition bars and bites initially established a strong presence in the club, retail, mass and convenience channels, and differentiated itself by being a marketer of Greek-yogurt coated products. But now, the brand is struggling to gain traction in the marketplace, and in the 52 weeks ended Nov. 2, dollar sales of Rickland Orchards snack/granola bars were $9,414,904, down 58% from a year ago, according to I.R.I.

David Wenner, president and chief executive officer of B&G Foods, in a July 17 conference call with financial analysts said the brand is having difficulty maintaining traction in retail distribution and has been underpriced by competition in warehouse club channels.

“We are working on new offerings and concepts for this brand to restore momentum in both channels,” he said.

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