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Protein Bars: The Key Drivers of Future Category Growth for Chinese Consumers

As protein bar sales grow globally, new opportunities are emerging. Learn the three top drivers of future growth in protein bars, according to our consumer research.


  • The protein bar category has seen rapid growth for several reasons.
  • Brands will need to refine their understanding of the protein bar consumer to stay competitive.
  • Our consumer study points to three drivers of future category growth.

Increased snacking, growing recognition of protein’s benefits, and the rise of the “active nutrition consumer” have fueled rapid growth in the protein bar category. Now companies are wondering what will come next. We conducted a U&A study1 to gain insights into what will drive future growth in the protein bar category. Here’s what we found:

1. Protein Fortification = Healthy

When we asked consumers which foods and beverages they thought were healthy and unhealthy, we discovered that protein-fortified products clustered toward the healthy end of the spectrum. Among Chinese consumers, these included protein/energy bars, as well as protein shakes, protein cereal, protein powder, protein water, and protein-enhanced snacks. 

In addition, the consumers rated “sweet protein snacks” and “salty protein snacks” as healthier than sweet and salty snacks without added protein, indicating protein-fortification shifts the perception of products from less healthy to more healthy on the spectrum. We also saw that Chinese consumers have increased their consumption of the snacks they perceive as healthy, showing how protein fortification is becoming a signpost for “healthy.”

Learn about our Bar Solutions, which include a wide range of proteins—from low lactose and low fat whey protein isolates to milk proteins that reduce bar hardening and extend shelf life.

2. Eating Occasions Beyond Workouts

Another driver of future category growth is consumers using protein bars beyond exercise occasions. While 52% of Chinese protein bar or snack users have these products before or after going to the gym, the next most popular occasions are watching TV/playing video games (33%), and taking a break from work or school (31%). Our study shows an average of five different eating occasions per consumer.

man sitting at computer

The top four needs these products are meeting for consumers are muscle building/recovery, energy for the day, as a better-for-you treat, and to provide a mental break/reduce stress—underscoring the importance of both functional and emotional needs. Since heavy bar users are more likely than light users to consume bars while using the computer at home for leisure, watching TV/playing video games, and taking breaks from work or school, brands can consider how to make protein bars more relevant to light users, in particular, for these non-exercise occasions.

3. Taste is Key

We also learned from our consumer study that “great tasting” is the most important attribute in a protein/energy bar after “all-natural” and “high protein.” Taste is also the biggest single category barrier. Many non-users who had tried protein bars before told us the bars weren’t very tasty, while those who hadn’t tried them tended to say they don’t believe the bars would taste good.  

Getting the flavor right is an essential part of meeting taste expectations. We saw that among Chinese consumers, the favorite bar flavors are indulgent and fruit flavors, including chocolate, yogurt, hazelnut chocolate, mocha, and peach (though savory such as spicy beef also scored high). Texture also plays a major role in the eating experience, with crispy and soft textures preferred in bars over chewy, crunchy, and gooey.

Beyond the Bar

With about one in three Chinese consumers saying they’ve had a protein bar in the past three months, it’s clear that the bar category is not niche. However, there is still plenty of opportunity—both through users increasing their consumption frequency and in attracting new consumers. New protein formats beyond the bar are another promising strategy for brands to consider.

bowl of chips

Our research shows a high level of interest among Chinese consumers in a variety of snacks with added protein. Sweet protein snacks and salty protein snacks, which are especially suited to breaks and relaxation occasions as a better-for-you treat, have the potential to add 50% incremental users beyond bars. 

This is an exciting time for the protein bar category, with a number of opportunities and directions for developing next-gen protein snacks that offer an enjoyable experience and satisfy consumers’ evolving needs. As your ingredient partner, Glanbia Nutritionals provides bar solutions for the ASPAC market that can give your brand an edge. 

Contact us to learn more, and learn more about snacking in ASPAC here


1. Glanbia Nutritionals, Healthy Snacking U&A Study, 2022.

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