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Passing the Bar


For many Americans, a truly balanced breakfast comes secondary to ease and convenience, with a simple bowl of cereal being far more common than freshly prepared eggs, sausage and pancakes for busy families to chow down on before heading to work or school.

Still, even a bowl of cereal isn’t a fast-enough eat for some consumers. An increasing number of such Americans are turning to cereal bars and other types of bars for sustenance.

Not only do healthy, portable snacks like cereal bars make up three of the four breakfast-type foods with the fastest-growing popularity over the past decade, but the number of households using cereal bars increased by 50 percent in the last 10 years, according to market research publisher Packaged Facts.

And it’s not just cereal bars that are creating what Dwight Richmond, global grocery purchasing coordinator at Whole Foods Market, called “a bar revolution.” Snacks bars, protein bars, energy bars, granola bars, yogurt bars and nutrition bars are on an upswing, too. In fact, more than 1,000 nutrition bars are on the market today, compared to just 226 in 2005.

“It comes down to convenience and taste,” Michelle DeLamielleure, senior consumer insights manager for General Mills Convenience & Foodservice, told Convenience Store News. “Bars offer a convenient, portable format and appeal to c-store shoppers who are seeking out a great-tasting snack, as well as something that may be a little better for them.”

Snack preferences are changing, and suppliers have taken notice. Along with manufacturers like General Mills and Kellogg Co., whose cereal brands are options for bar varieties, companies better known for their candy brands have launched bar lines.

Bars’ portability and lack of a mess are among the most attractive features for today’s consumers, who are increasingly eating on the go and willing to replace a full meal with snacking.

Bars also offer a wide array of flavors for those who crave variety, and their functional benefits include weight management and easy protein replenishment.

Who is buying bars? Convenience stores with an active, athletic customer base are more likely to do well by offering a variety of nutrition bars. High-volume consumers of nutrition bars are more likely to report they enjoy taking risks and participate in outdoor sports such as biking, mountain/rock climbing and backpacking, according to Packaged Facts research.

Consumers engaged in sports and fitness activities are beginning to favor savory bars, likely due to the fact that sweet flavors are often consumed earlier in the day.

As for snack and cereal bars, while they appeal to a wide variety of demographic segments, they are the No. 1 food purchased at convenience stores to help with weight management. Customers who bought bars for this purpose cited their purchase reasoning as low calorie count, feeling good about eating them, great taste and prevention from overeating.

“In terms of flavor trends, we are seeing both sweet and savory bars do well,” said DeLamielleure. “Both millennials and generation Z are very multicultural and love different types of ethnic cuisines and flavors. They are likely to experiment with new foods, flavors and dishes to broaden their horizons. Thus, the next crop of new bars will likely include unique flavors.”

Another up-and-coming trend in the bars segment is in the labeling and packaging instead of the product. Suppliers are developing simpler, cleaner ingredient labels for bars and other snacks, a move primarily driven by millennials but supported across all adult age groups.

Additionally, more bars are making use of photography of the actual product or transparent packaging that lets consumers see the actual product, including The Hershey Co.’s Brookside line of bars and General Mills’ Nature Valley Roasted Nut Crunch and Simple Nut bars.

“In general, people want flavor variety in their snacks and, at the same time, they want inherently better-for-you snacks that take the mystery out of what’s in their food,” DeLamielleure added.

This may result in a long-term shift in consumer purchasing habits as Packaged Facts sees a permanent transition away from three square meals, combined with the desire for alternate breakfast foods and better-for-you products. What’s more, bars are an efficient platform for packaged food suppliers to respond to the latest concerns of healthy-eating consumers.

The overall snack bar market, including nutrition and cereal/granola bars, is forecast to approach $8 billion in 2019, according to Packaged Facts.

This is good news for c-store operators who stand to benefit from the strong profit margin of individually wrapped bars. Americans who consume the most bars also have the cash to do so — market intelligence agency Mintel found that higher income levels correspond with bar purchases, with households that earn between $100,000 and $149,000 consuming the most bars.

More than 1,000 nutrition bars are on the market today, compared to just 226 in 2005.

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