No holds barred: How the nutrition bar market is breaking free from traditional categories

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | Happy Lark
Getty | Happy Lark

Related tags Consumer trends Sports nutrition protein bar Protein Sugar

The nutrition bar market is witnessing an unprecedented merging of categories and is calling into question all health and wellness stereotypes, revealing ‘fascinating’ macros trends and new product opportunities for the whole food and drink industry to tap into.

Nick Morgan, director of the sports, performance and lifestyle nutrition consultancy Nutrition Integrated, says the merging of health and nutrition categories within the snack bars market is thanks to a paradigm shift in consumers' perceptions of health and nutrition.

"Existing stereotypes or ‘categories’ become less and less relevant. A nutrition bar can be an endurance bar, a weight management bar can be a food bar.

"We are re-defining what positioning means now and it’s fascinating to see. And it’s all because of this overarching shift in consumers’ interest in health and nutrition.

“Thanks to this expanding interest in health and wellness, anything goes, and bar are a great market for trying something new.”

He added that the market has also witnessed a ‘re-invigoration of the meal replacement bar’ thanks to the shift towards more ‘positive nutrition’.

“People are looking to manage their weight and daily food intake in a positive way rather than the stigma of weight management and food restriction.

"Established brands, like Huel, are redefining the meal replacement category to the extent that the description is now not relevant. Now others are following – Human Food being one of the latest.

“These brands are saying a meal replacement or a ‘complete food bar’ doesn’t have to be for people struggling with their weight – it’s useful for anybody on the go and there’s no shame in that.

“The bar market is the leading player for how all market trends are playing out. Any trend we see in the bars market is interesting for the broader industry to understand because it’s in bars where ideas are initially tested out and trends are formed."

Which claims are on the up?

Discussing Nutrition Integrated’s first European food market trends report (an analysis of 5,000 bars from across the EU officially launching next week), Morgan said what’s really interesting is the rate of change in terms of the types of health claims that consumers want to see on pack.

He said that it’s easy enough to research how many products are coming onto the market with a specific claim but what is more insightful is to compare this to the number of products being removed from the market to discover the net change.

By looking at this net change it is possible to see which claims are genuinely growing in popularity and which are failing to gain interest - This is the true reflection of a trend and whether it is gaining consumer traction.

Morgan’s report reveals that - between 1st July and 31st Dec, 2019 - many health claims are seeing just as many new products join the market, as leaving the market. The only claims which are seeing a net increase are ‘high protein’ and ‘low sugar’ while ‘high energy’ and ‘natural’ are both seeing a net decrease.

What do shoppers want?

Using Google Trends to discover which benefits consumers are actively searching within snack bars, Morgan’s analysis reveals that there is a low demand for ‘high energy bars’ yet there is a high availability of these types of products.

“This could be a terminology issue. It may be that people are looking for a certain type of energy rather than simply ‘high energy’ – perhaps they are looking for the words ‘sustained’ or ‘slow release’.

“But ultimately, the insight from Google Trends demonstrates that people are really more interested in protein and sugar than in energy, when it comes to bars.”

Discussing the net loss of bars on the market with a ‘natural’ claim, Morgan guesses this may be due to the disconnect between the ingredients consumers expect and the reality of what a natural bar will provide.

“I think it demonstrates how tricky it is to be ‘natural’ and great tasting.The concept is great on paper, but as we know taste is king!

“For a bar to be totally natural and to provide that taste and texture that consumers enjoy, it will is likely to be higher in sugar. It may be totally natural sugars but this is still not necessarily what consumers expect when they buy a ‘natural’ bar.”


Looking into the emerging opportunities in this increasingly competitive market, Morgan says that collagen, the ketogenic diet, probiotics, meal replacement, and bars targeting the brain are starting to appear on the market and represent clear propositions for the future.

Also, additional health benefits is an effective route to differentiation.

He says this is a popular route for US brands to take and, as with most food trends, the US market is a good place to look for a preview into the future of the European market.

 “As the bar market continues to grow, one way to differentiate a bar is to look at additional active ingredients and related claims. In total, 9% of bars in the EU make a 'with benefits' claim, of which 41% and 31% include vitamins and minerals respectively. Without question, bars with benefits effectively target a more niche audience.

“How else do you differentiate without big branding and a big marketing budget? This allows brands to differentiate without a cash injection.

“The skill is to work out which of the benefits is genuinely understandable to mainstream people.”

He adds that the wide range of ‘w. benefits’ bars entering the market, with benefits including anything from omega-3 and collagen to taurine and caffeine, shows that brands are experimenting to see which benefits catch with the mass market.

He adds that we are seeing another big future food trend entering the snack bars market first.

“There’s quite a few insect bars appearing. I’m not sure that much of the bar is actually insect but I don’t think that really matters. Maybe it’s helping to democratise the idea of using insects as a food source.

“It’s an ethical thing to do to broaden people’s view to recognise this as a sustainable source of protein.”

Speaking about the opportunity in keto, he said this is clearly a big trend and currently very few bars are tapping into this space so far so it seems a given that it’s an opportunity.

“If you break down the trends to their most simplistic nature, we know that keto is of high interest and there is a low level of keto specific bars in the market so it seems to me to be a no brainer that there’s an opportunity to establish a great tasting high fat keto bar.”




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