How to Formulate the Perfect Bar

We asked our Glanbia Nutritionals R&D team to share some expert tips on protein bar formulation—for the best taste, texture, shelf life, and more—based on developing bars for some of the world’s most successful brands.

Growing Demand for Bars as a Healthy Snack

Across the globe, bars are becoming an in-demand snack—especially bars fortified with protein. This is due to consumers’ growing interest in healthier snacking and the benefits of protein. Our own consumer research shows two in three US consumers perceive protein bars as healthy.1

We’ve also seen 17% of US consumers increase their consumption of protein/energy bars in the past year, with the highest levels among those aged 20 to 45.2 The biggest users of protein bars are active lifestyle and performance consumers, with one in four consuming protein bars or other protein-enhanced snacks at least once a week.3

Succeeding in Energy and Protein Bar Formulation

To develop a successful bar, taste, texture, and the type and amount of protein are all key factors. The satiety benefit of protein is important since the top need protein bars address for consumers is as a “holdover between meals to help avoid bad choices.”4 Protein bar formulation must also account for the broad range of usage occasions we see for protein bars, with the top two being “breakfast while out of the home” and “post-workout.”5

We recently sat down with members of our Glanbia Nutritionals R&D team to discuss some tips and tricks they’ve learned in developing nutrition bars that meet the taste and texture demands of today’s consumers.

When formulating a bar, how do you begin?

We find we get the most productive start when we have specific objectives. Understanding things like nutritional targets and labeling requirements, as well as flavor expectations, will help to focus the process. 

We can’t emphasize enough that “great tasting” is the most important attribute for protein bars after “high protein,”6 so brands should spend some time on this. For the US market, chocolate and chocolate varieties like peanut butter chocolate are the most preferred protein bar flavors.6 

Top Appealing Protein Bar Flavors (US)

Flavor % of Protein Bar Users
Peanut butter chocolate 53%
Chocolate 46%
Dark chocolate 45%
Fudge brownie 45%
Caramel nuts and chocolate 42%
Fruit and nut 42%
Salted caramel 39%
Chocolate fudge 39%
Cookies and cream 35%
Strawberry cheesecake 34%
White chocolate 34%
Mint chocolate 32%
Lemon 25%
Glanbia Nutritionals, Healthy Snacking U&A Study, 2022 

What other attributes in a bar are the most important to consumers?

For protein bars, our latest consumer data shows the attributes important to protein bar users (after “high protein” (66%) and “great tasting” (54%)) are “satisfying” (47%), “good source of vitamins and minerals” (39%), “no/low sugar” (36%), and “enjoyable texture” (34%).7

If you could offer one practical but often overlooked tip for formulating a new bar, what would it be?

Not all proteins are the same. For protein bar formulation, we must consider the right protein to use to meet taste and texture expectations. The idea is to start with the protein benefits that you want and then build your bar around it. 

Knowing how different proteins react with sugars and fats will help direct the process. It’s critical to understand that, due to ingredient interactions, it takes a specific balance of ingredients to achieve an optimal protein bar formulation.

In protein bar formulation, there are common challenges in achieving the right taste, texture, shelf life, and nutritional profile. How do functional proteins help address this?

We’ve developed innovative ingredients solutions to address the most common bar challenges from the inside out. We have functional proteins that can address bars that might be too sticky, lose shape, or are too brittle. This is of critical importance because the texture is a significant barrier to protein bar use for some consumers, with the top texture complaints being “grainy,” “hard,” and “chalky.”8

woman with bar

Of course, the neutral taste of our proteins is also important, as it allows us to formulate bars that taste delicious and allow the flavors to shine through. We have proteins that extend shelf life and can be used with less sugar, including optimized blends of dairy and plant-based proteins, which are both popular with today’s consumers. 

With extensive experience from so many challenges, we’ve expanded our portfolio of protein ingredients to include those that also work in different components of the bar—from the coating to the core and in layering systems like caramel, fruit, and nut butters. All of this research has resulted in the ability to create high-protein bars that don’t compromise on taste, texture, or format. 

Can you share some of the proactive research Glanbia Nutritionals has done to address these challenges? 

As the market has grown, Glanbia Nutritionals has been proactive every single day in understanding and addressing specific needs of the bar category. We are designing new proteins for different uses and formats and expanding applications. This practice has even made it possible to apply our technology to a wide range of products outside the bar category, including extruded cereals, and snacks, and even confections.

Our research has also shown that consumers’ expectations go beyond flavor and performance. For example, we’re seeing growth in whole food bars that deliver extra nutrients consumers are looking for like vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This has made our custom bar formulation services especially valuable for our clients.  

Can you give an example of a customer challenge that we addressed or solved with an innovative approach? 

Recently we had a customer whose main priority was creating a bar that maintained a certain level of softness during the shelf life. Based on our working experience with this issue, along with understanding the client’s core bar requirements, we were able to see the big picture and demonstrate how different carbohydrate and fat systems interact with each other to impact the softness of a bar. 

With a custom bar formulation, we were successful in developing a balance in those specific ingredients to maintain a softer bar with a longer shelf life. The expertise we’ve developed from working on a broad range of formulation challenges has provided us with a number of go-to solutions that let us reach that perfect product based on a client’s unique problem and requirements.

What can Glanbia Nutritionals provide that others can’t to a team looking to formulate a great new bar? 

With integrated expertise in technology, function, and application, Glanbia Nutritionals can provide unique insight and an active partnership in exploring the optimal application of proteins, as well as our bioactives, micronutrients, custom premixes, flavors, and trending bar ingredients such as protein crisps and quinoa.

We take a holistic view of how these ingredients can best perform in the core, coatings, and layers of the bar. With access to a huge portfolio of ingredients and alternative protein sources like grains and legumes, as well as the next generation of protein sources like flaxseed and chia, it is easier to address challenges like moisture management, shelf life, texture, and flavor.

What can you expect when you come to work with us at our Collaboration Center?

When you work with us, you’ll be able to create new, innovative formulas alongside our experienced R&D scientists. In this focused and immersive process, we work with our customers to develop and refine formulas on the spot, condensing 2-3 months of work down to 2-3 days. In just a few days of concepting and development, our customers will leave with a real prototype remarkably close to a finished format.

Let us know what your biggest challenge is. We have the resources and the tenacity to push the boundaries of what’s possible in our relentless quest for producing the best products on the market. To talk to a Glanbia Nutritionals expert about our bar formulation solutions—including custom bar formulation and how to choose the best bar ingredients to meet your needs—contact us today.


1-8. Glanbia Nutritionals, Healthy Snacking U&A Study, 2022. N = 800 US consumers.

For More Information, Contact A Glanbia Nutritionals Expert Today

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