protein bars with powder

Functional Nutrition Bars: What Consumers Want

Functional bars are on the rise globally. Learn which markets are growing the fastest and what consumers are looking for in functional bars.

Functional Bars Meet a Variety of Needs

Functional nutrition bars have a broader audience than ever before—a far cry from their early days as a sports performance product. Now with more consumers looking for healthy snacks that provide extra benefits—from energy to muscle building to digestive health—functional bars stand out as a top choice. Endlessly customizable, bars make an ideal format for incorporating functional ingredients. 

Explore Glanbia Nutritionals' Functional Bar Solutions and Ingredients

Growth in the Functional Bars Market

The $6.5 billion global protein/energy bar is expected to reach $8.5 billion in 2024, growing at a CAGR of 9.5% between 2021 and 2024, according to Euromonitor data.1 North America makes up the largest market by far, with the US dominating in sales in the region.2 The North American bar market is also the fastest growing, followed closely by Asia Pacific, where Japan is a major player in protein/energy bars.3

Global Protein and Energy Bar Market

Region Retail Sales 2021 (USD million) Forecast Retail Sales 2024 (USD million) Forecast CAGR (2021-2024)
North America 4,295.4 5,751.3 10.2%
Western Europe 937.1 1085.7 5.0%
Asia Pacific 802.7 1071.9 10.1%
Latin America 101.2 133.2 9.6%
Middle East and Africa 37.7 47.1 7.7%
Source: Euromonitor Passport, June 2022

This continued growth may be no surprise since functional bars provide a winning combination of convenience and health that perfectly meets the needs of today’s on-the-go, snack-loving, and health-conscious consumers. Adding trending functional ingredients to your bars is a simple way to create the healthiest energy bars 2023 has to offer.

Must-Haves for Functional Bars

Despite the category’s diversity through customization, there are some core expectations we see among nutrition bar consumers, such as:

1. Protein

Protein is the top functional ingredient in the nutrition bar category. Consumers are seeking protein for sustained energy, satiety, weight loss, muscle support, and general health. While two in three US consumers perceive protein bars as healthy, active and performance consumers show the highest usage of protein bars.4 

Consumers report the top need met by protein bars is as a holdover between meals to help them avoid bad choices.5 Protein awareness is so high now that bar manufacturers should consider protein-fortification a must-have.

man holding bar

2. Great Taste

While ‘high protein” is the attribute most US protein bar users are seeking, “great tasting” comes in at number two.6 In fact, the taste is one of the main barriers to expanding protein bar use among consumers. 

In our own consumer research, non-users’ opinions ranged from “I have tried them and they are not very tasty” to “I haven’t tried them but don’t think they would taste good”—indicating that even taste perception can be an issue.7 Staying with preferred bar flavors like peanut butter chocolate, chocolate, and fudge brownie is a good approach.8

3. Lower Sugar

Delivering great taste has recently become even more challenging due to the growing interest in low- and no-sugar products, especially among health-conscious consumers like nutrition bar consumers. More bar consumers are checking nutrition labels for added and total sugars when choosing products. 

Among healthy lifestyle consumers in the US, we even see the perception that protein bars are probably too high in sugar.9 Clear front-of-package messaging about lower sugar content will be important going forward. However, brands should be careful not to reduce sugar at the expense of great taste.

Other Favorite Functional Ingredients

Besides protein, the functional ingredients consumers are seeking across all categories, including bars, are:

1. Fiber

Consumer interest in fiber is experiencing a resurgence largely due to an increased focus on digestive health. In the Chinese market, fiber is also associated with immune support due to the role of the gut as a first-line defense. 

Functional bars are a quick and easy way to boost intake of this under-consumed nutrient of concern. Interest in prebiotic fiber to support the gut microbiome and beta-glucan fiber for heart health is also increasing.

2. Probiotics

Probiotics remain a trending functional ingredient, even in the wake of the pandemic. Since consumers often look to fermented dairy products or supplements when seeking this benefit, snacks that contain probiotics will stand out. 

This presents an enormous opportunity for nutrition bar manufacturers. Thanks to the recent development of shelf-stable probiotics based on Bacillus coagulans and Bacillus subtilis strains, bars are now positioned to compete head-to-head with yogurt on digestive and immune support.

3. Healthy Fats

The keto diet has brought fat back into the spotlight. The coconut oil MCTs used in today’s popular keto bars are being studied not just for weight loss benefits, but also for sports performance and cognitive function. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are another category of healthy fats that functional bars can deliver as ALA through flax and chia seeds or as encapsulated DHA from marine sources.

Emerging Functional Ingredients for Bars

Some of the newer functional ingredients showing up in bars include collagen to support healthy skin, joints, and bones, as well as turmeric, whose active ingredient curcumin is under research for potential anti-inflammatory benefits.

Learn about our CuroWhite® to add curcumin without the orange color.

Caffeine is also picking up speed in functional bars, with companies incorporating caffeine via coffee beans, coffee flour, and green coffee bean extract. Learn about our NutraShield™ Triple Layer Caffeine available in synthetic and natural forms. A healthy nutritional profile is still important, so be sure to include protein, fiber, and essential micronutrients for the healthiest energy bars. 2023 is an opportunity to meet multiple needs for consumers—from supporting physical health to mental wellness.

Give Your Nutrition Bars a Boost

Whether it’s a caffeine protein bar for an on-the-go breakfast or a fiber and MCT keto bar to support weight loss, it’s essential to formulate with the right blend of functional ingredients for your target consumers. See our expert tips on formulating the perfect bar

Interested in learning more about functional bars? Contact Glanbia Nutritionals to learn how we can help you succeed.


1-3. Euromonitor Passport, June 2022. 
4-9. Glanbia Nutritionals, Healthy Snacking U&A Study, 2022.

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