Hearthside Food Solutions plans to launch more protein-based products soon. 

DOWNER’S GROVE, ILL. — The cold-formed bars produced at Leerdham, The Netherlands-based VSI are gooey and chocolatey and taste delicious. And while they might not have a grain base, make no mistake: These aren’t candy bars.

“This is a nutritional bar, not a confectionery item,” said Gerard Janssens, president of VSI, the latest acquisition of Hearthside Food Solutions, Downers Grove. “The bars we produce are more specialized than just a confectionery bar. We make a lot of these for dieting, sports or meal replacement.”

Protein is a huge draw in the world of bars today. For the nutritional side, soy and whey protein are the most common, but Mr. Janssens noted that, thanks to VSI’s extensive product R.&D. capabilities, the company can develop just about any bar to a customer’s specifications.

Back stateside, protein is taking off as well. Because protein aids in satiety, it lends itself well to the snack bar segment. 

“It feels like the U.S. is following what the Europeans have been doing for the past year from a protein and nutritional standpoint,” said Dwayne Hughes, senior vice-president, supply chain for Hearthside.

Americans are choosing one particular protein source time and again. 

“Nut butter is the hot ingredient right now; everything has nut butter in it,” said Rich Roscoe, plant manager for Hearthside’s H1 plant in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Riding the protein wave, Hearthside anticipates some big launches of new protein-based products in the near future.