This was the question raised by Nick Morgan, owner of Nutrition Integrated Ltd, during his ‘build a bar’ presentation at NutraIngredients’ Sports Nutrition Summit in Amsterdam last week.
He revealed the EU data from Sports Integrated's bespoke bar dataset which captures 5000 bars in total, across multiple markets. The data shows that, despite the monumental influx of health bars, the genuine variety of products inside the packaging isn’t huge.
“Really there are only 15-20 different bar propositions available on the market with significant presence, once you strip away the packaging.
“Over time that number of propositions will probably decrease further as needs are realised.”
The hot spots
Morgan described the ‘hot spots’ or main categories within the health bar market: high protein (around 20g) low sugar (less than 5g) such as Grenade and Quest, or the ‘food-first’ and 'natural' products with fewer ingredients such as Nakd and Kind.
But Morgan said the 'high protein low sugar' category has become very confusing when it comes to distinguishing what’s aimed at the sports nutrition consumers and what’s aimed at the active lifestyle shopper.
“Brands are going for more consumers by moving into the mass market which is making it hard to say what’s our industry now.”
Sugar stats uncovered
The top claim for protein bars is, unsurprisingly, ‘protein’, but second to this is ‘gluten free’, followed by ‘vegan’, ‘energy’, ‘organic’, ‘fiber’ and ‘no added sugar’.
In line with the societal need to reduce sugar, Morgan pointed out that many brands appear to try to get their content to below 5g per serve.
But if they don’t manage to do this then the need to keep sugar content down seems to become redundant and, instead, it seems brands simply concentrate on ensuring they can make a ‘no added sugar’ or ‘natural’ claim instead, through the use of sweet ingredients such as dates.
He said this creates a strange sort of 'no-man's land' where the majority of bars either contain less than 5g or over 10g per serve, with few falling into the middle ground.
Another issue many brands have tried to overcome is the laxative effects which come with creating a sweetener-filled 'high protein low sugar bars'.
In order to find a middle ground, several innovations are now utilising IMOs and prebiotic fibers such as brown rice malt, peanuts, pea and rice protein, chicory fibre, cocoa butter and rice starch.
In terms of protein sources used for bars currently on the market, 72.8% comes from milk and 37.5% from whey while 60.4% come from plants, 22.8% from collagen, 8.8% from casein, 8.5% from egg, 0.4% from animal and 0.2% from insects.
However, when the bar falls into the ‘food-first’ category, the number of bars using a plant sourced protein shoots up to 75.8%, with whey only amounting to 25.6% and milk 23.8%.
This could signify that consumers buying into the ‘food first’ category are more concerned about the health or moral implications of an animal sourced protein, suggested Morgan.
With 14% of bars making a ‘with benefits’ claim now, it’s important to see what extra benefits are resonating with consumers.
Morgan pointed out that the refrigerated probiotic protein bar is becoming big in the US, as are nootropic additions and more overt collagen based bars - three trends he sees as likely to move across to Europe.