protein bars

What Do Consumers Want in a Nutrition Bar?

The rise of the health-conscious, on-the-go consumer has made bars a favorite format for delivering healthy nutrition in a snackable, tasty way. But what exactly are consumers looking for in a nutrition bar? Here we explore what today’s consumers expect, plus some key formulation considerations for manufacturers.

Innovation Is Key for Nutrition Bars

As consumers look forward to getting back to our on-the-go lifestyles, a re-invigoration of interest in nutrition and health is expected to drive growth in nutrition bars.  Bars address the need for convenience and portability essential for busy lifestyles while having the potential to meet a wide variety of health and nutrition needs. To succeed in this competitive market, brands are becoming laser-focused on innovative ways to meet consumer trends.

Understanding the Consumer’s Needs

To formulate a nutrition bar that can win in the market, it’s essential that brands have a clear understanding of their target consumer. Who’s buying bars and why? Are the products meeting all their needs? Are there new ingredients or claims they might be interested in? While consumers could be snacking on bars to satisfy hunger or to enjoy a sweet treat, they could be choosing bars for exercise support, weight loss, or specific health benefits. It’s important to have a deep understanding of the target consumer’s needs so you can formulate accordingly.

Macro and Micro Nutrients

Protein remains the most in-demand macronutrient in nutrition bars for US consumers1 and addresses a broad range of needs, from satiety to muscle building to weight loss support. Concentrates and isolates are typically required for achieving high protein targets, with plant-based proteins such as pea protein and blends becoming increasingly popular.

woman and man working out in gym

Beyond protein, some consumers have a strong interest in nutrition bars with fiber, particularly for digestive support. According to a survey of US consumers by Mintel, 1 in 3 bar purchasers indicated fiber amount was important to them.2 Others are looking for healthy fats in their nutrition bars, driven largely by the keto movement and its focus on coconut oil and MCTs. Vitamin and mineral blends can be added to nutrition bars to support general wellness goals or for more personalized nutrition such as calcium and vitamin D for bone health. 

Ingredients

Consumers may also have a preference for certain ingredients in their nutrition bars. Examples include whole grains like brown rice and millet, as well as superfoods like berries and greens. Nutrition bars formulated with seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower, and flax seeds are becoming increasingly popular and meet the niche need for a nut-free, allergen-free option. This is especially important for those consumers who indicate they are increasing their bar consumption. The majority of those consumers indicate healthier options are the reason for their increase.3 Probiotic and prebiotic ingredients may be important to some consumers, while the benefits of bioactive plant extracts appeal to others. 

Functional Benefits

Brands can add bioactives to their nutrition bars for target consumers seeking specific functional benefits. Functional ingredient blends can be developed for immunity, energy, beauty, sleep, and cognitive health support, for example. According to global new product launch data of bars, vitamin & mineral fortified claims has grown from only 4% of global bars launched in 2016 to nearly 8% in 2020.4 Beyond vitamins & minerals, new functional nutrition bars often feature a trending functional ingredient such as turmeric, collagen, or MCTs as a way to quickly communicate the bars’ benefits.

Claims

Clean label claims are continuing to grow in many nutrition bars. These include any claims that flag the product as better-for-you. Trending examples include allergen-free claims (e.g., gluten-free, soy-free, or nut-free) and sugar reduction claims (e.g., less sugar, no sugar, or no added sugars). Allergen claims are by far the leading claim globally in nutrition bars with over 43% of bars launched in 2020 claiming Low/No/Reduced Allergen. No added sugar is a claim that is growing rapidly. With only 9% of bars in 2016 claiming no added sugar, the number jumped to 17% in 2020.5 Sustainability and social impact claims are also on the rise and can range from using non-GMO or upcycled ingredients to donating to social causes.

Taste and Texture

Of course, we can’t overlook the importance of sensory appeal in winning loyal consumers. For nutrition bars, achieving great taste and texture can be challenging due to their high nutrient levels which can impact both attributes. Flavor masking can be important, as well as choosing the right flavors. Indulgent flavors like chocolate, caramel, peanut butter, and mint work well in nutrition bars, as do bright fruit flavors like lemon, blueberry, and banana.

lemon meringue

A nutrition bar’s texture can range from soft to crunchy, with contrasting textures from layers, coatings, or inclusions becoming increasingly popular. Some tried and true inclusions for nutrition bars are seeds, dried fruits, crisps, and chocolate or peanut butter chips. During formulation, texture problems in nutrition bars can often be overcome with the right functional protein, which can improve softness or reduce stickiness, for example.

Raising the Bar

As a convenient, healthy, and highly customizable product, nutrition bars have a bright future ahead. Brands that stay up on trends, take the time to understand their consumers’ needs, and are willing to innovate will lead the way. 

Here at Glanbia Nutritionals, we offer the ingredients you need to succeed in the nutrition bar market—from functionally optimized dairy and plant proteins to bioactives to flavoring systems. Collaborate with us to formulate your most delicious, nutritious bars yet!

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References

1-3. Mintel, Snack, Nutrition and Performance Bars – US, February 2020
4-5. Mintel, Global New Product Database, January 2021

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