The US bar market experienced steady growth over the past few years reflecting consumer snacking habits and the continued pursuit of improved health and nutrition. However, the overall category did not reflect the surge of snack consumption during the pandemic, based on IRI’s quarterly retail sales report for snacks ending June 14, 2020. Only the cereal bar subcategory increased dollar sales.

The softening of the bar category may be attributed to an increase in comfort eating. Typically perceived as healthy or a permissible indulgence, bars may not have been top of mind as consumers turned to more indulgent core snacks.

Continued interest in functional ingredients and health may bode well for the category. Bars are versatile and can be personalized for functionality, taste and format. Individual packaging also addresses consumer concerns about COVID-19 contamination.

“Consumers will have preferences for indulgent snacks, but overall, they will be looking for balance and variety. It is critical for all producers to consider all factors and strike a balance,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt executive vice president and practice leader, client insights, IRI.

Over the years, Clif Bar & Company, Emeryville, Calif., expanded its portfolio to include a variety of products for different occasions, including breakfast foods and snacks, like CLIF Granola and CLIF Nut Butter Bars to help manage everyday energy needs and sweet treats that balance nutrition with flavors and textures, like LUNA Bars.

“We redesigned the packaging of our CLIF Whey Protein Bars to better communicate the high protein, low sugar nutritional content and to show the bar’s unique texture through a clear ‘window’ on the front of the package,” said Becca Hart, brand manager, Clif Bar.

Bars perceived as more indulgent have seen declines as consumer concerns about sugar amounts have increased. To feature a “no sugar added” label, producers are replacing sugar using natural sweeteners, fruit purées and dried fruits that don’t count as added sugar, thus allowing “no sugar added” label claims.

Bar consumers tend to remain loyal to favorite flavors and most purchase multipacks with the same flavor, according to the Mintel survey. However, 30% of respondents said they increased bar consumption in the past year due to flavor variety. Innovation beyond chocolate and nut butters, like fruit flavors, may be an area of opportunity.

This article originally appeared in SNAC International's 2020 Official State of the Industry