How the Snack Bar Market is Evolving to Meet Consumer Needs

by | Mar 23, 2023

In March 2022, our insights team examined how the snack and nutritional bar market was evolving as COVID-19 restrictions began to relax.  We looked at trends affecting nutritional bar sales, like interest in health and wellness, on-the-go satisfaction, and changes in snacking habits.

From 2022 to 2023, the handheld snack will continue on the path of innovation to introduce new concepts, formats, and flavors that address unique consumer needs. Recent launches in snack bars show everything from delicious indulgence and portion-sized bites to evolving inclusion mixes.

Let’s explore what’s driving new product development, trending flavors, and recent launches that align with consumer behavior. 

North American Snack Bar Market Overview

As a traditional “lunch box” item, 2020 US snack bar sales declined for the first time since 2014 because of COVID-19-related school and workplace closures. The snack bar market is bouncing back, expected to reach pre-pandemic levels over the next few years. Expansion of premium offerings combined with inflationary pressures leads forecasters to predict snack bar revenues will outpace volume sales.

The Canadian snack bar market trends aligned with US dynamics, experiencing a dip in sales during peak pandemic timing.

Unlike the US snack bar market, the Canadian market is forecast to grow through 2024 in volume and value. The pattern reflects expanding consumption rather than inflationary growth due to higher ingredient costs and other supply chain issues.

Ultimate Indulgence

Is the line between snack bars and chocolate bars blurring? Research firm, Mintel suggests that elevating the indulgent side of the snack bar category could be a strong innovation pathway.  Brands exploring indulgence in a new way might delve into novel textural experiences or premium ingredients. Flavor innovation is another avenue, as 30% of global consumers find the richness of flavor the most important driver of enjoyment and pleasure in food. (Innova)

And while everyone loves a treat, it’s still possible to deliver indulgence to the 29% of consumers claiming most snacks they consume are healthy (Mintel).  Brands can marry indulgence and healthful characteristics—through smaller sizes, plant-based formulas, or lower sugar. Of recent snack and nutritional bar launches, growing claims include ‘plant-based,’ ‘vegan,’ and ‘dairy-free.’ Sugar reduction claims remain important for some brands.

North America Nutritional Bar Claims - Mintel - 2018-2022

Product Spotlight: In February 2023, beloved snack brand, Hostess, released a “first-of-its-kind candy bar-inspired snack cake bar.” Each box features 8 indulgent mini bars with layers such as chocolate cake, flavored crème, candy crunch, and fudge filling. Christopher Balach, general manager of Hostess Brands, shares, “we know that consumers are craving multitextured snacks – and the variety of creamy, crunchy, and rich layers in our new Kazbars will make every snacking experience a more joy-filled one (FoodSided).”

Portion Control

‘Permissible indulgence’ has become a buzzword in the food and beverage space that describes how people can meet health and wellness goals without sacrificing taste and eating experience.

To bring permissible indulgence to life, reducing portion sizes is one approach developers use. After all, a smaller-sized treat is still a treat.  With a third of US consumers indicating snacking as a way to relieve stress, bite-sized treats can offer the comfort of indulgence with the assurance of moderation.

Portion control doesn’t necessarily have to look like a smaller-sized version of the snack bar we know and love. Some brands are exploring different shapes and sizes to reinvent a classic format.

Product Spotlight: MadeGood, a popular snack brand, first launched granola minis in 2015, but has continued to expand the flavor range and offerings. The treats feature inclusions like muesli and granola with recent flavor launches including apple cinnamon and chocolate chip. The compact-sized snacks are nut-free, utilize nutrients from vegetables, and offer a good source of vitamin C&D. (Mintel. Global New Product Database)

Changing Product Mix

When you think about snack bar bases, chances are granola is the first to come to mind. But in the last 7 years, the snack bar category began featuring new bases that answer the call for more nutrients and innovative textures.

In 2014, cereal/granola bars represented 2/3 of snack bar sales. In the same year, nut/seed bases and fruit bars collectively only generated 1/3 of sales. By 2021, the product mix shifted. Cereal/granola bars accounted for less than 50% of sales, while nut/seed bars increased their share of sales significantly. Fruit bars saw some gains as well.

What’s driving this change? The shift is due, in part, to increased consumer focus on protein. Social listening software, Tastewise, shows that protein remains the top desired nutritional benefit in conversations about snack bars. Nuts and seeds offer a recognizable source of protein for grocery shoppers, with additional appeal for people seeking plant-based foods.

Product Spotlight: In January 2023, Yes Bar launched a salted maple pecan bar with almonds and cashews. The top ingredients include a combination of nuts and seeds, showcasing the evolution of traditional granola bar bases. (Mintel. Global New Product Database)

Flavor Trends in Snack Bars

Like other established categories, traditional flavors remain top in snack bar innovation. Over the past three years, mainstay flavors like chocolate and peanut butter have been brands’ top choices for new launches.

But, according to Mintel, 68% of snack bar consumers like buying new bar flavors. In the top ten growing flavors list, some flavors like marshmallow, dark chocolate, and banana are climbing in popularity. 

Top Flavors in Snack/Cereal/Energy Bars Top Growing Flavors in Snack/Cereal/Energy Bars
Chocolate Almond & Chocolate (Dark/Black) & Peanut
Chocolate & Peanut Butter Almond & Coconut
Peanut Butter Chocolate & Coconut
Strawberry Apple
Chocolate & Cookie Dough Marshmallow
Chocolate (Dark/Black) & Peanut Butter Apple & Cinnamon
Cookies & Cream Coconut
Marshmallow Peanut/Groundnut
Blueberry Blueberry
Chocolate & Mint Banana & Chocolate

As the category continues to evolve, we expect the flavor mix will, too. Tastes like mint, blueberry popcorn, maple & fig, and PB&J are a few of the novel flavors launched in 2022.

Nutritional Bars_Innovative Flavors_2023

Innovate in Snack Bars with FlavorSum

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