Innovation Investigation: What’s Shaping the Future of Snack and Nutrition Bars?

by | Mar 14, 2024

Snack and nutrition bars continue to be a go-to source for energy and satiety, with 58% of U.S. shoppers saying they eat snack bars at least once a week (Innova). Despite bar innovation slowing slightly in the U.S., the category remains extremely relevant for people who want convenient foods to support their health and wellness goals.

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North America holds 60% of the category’s global sales and Canada ranks #1 for per capita consumption.

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The North American market for snack and nutrition bars reached almost $11 billion USD in 2023 and is forecasted to generate more than $13 billion by 2027 (Innova).

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Nutrition bars make up over half of the category’s dollar shares and unit shares (NIQ).

Bar formulations tend to feel “customizable” with options that align with diverse needs and preferences. Added protein in a breakfast bar can simplify a busy morning. Bars with plant-based or upcycled ingredients can relieve certain sustainability concerns, which 40% of people say is something they factor in while shopping.

Some bar trends like non-traditional shapes, protein content, sugar reduction, and clean(er) labels may sound familiar as we’ve covered them in previous blogs. Emerging themes in new product development include new cross-over formats, more plant-based claims, functionality, and flavor innovation.

By the way, this blog kicks off a series of resources around snack and nutrition bars. Watch for a formulation-focused episode of FlavorScience, an e-book with more detailed insights, and an infographic illustrating trends likely to affect your bar innovation journey. Learn more about FlavorSum solutions for nutrition bars here.

Cross-Over Formats Stand Out With Texture

Recent snack bar launches play with taste and texture to create exciting sensory experiences. General Mills is expanding their snack bar lineup in 2024 and entries include a soft-baked muffin bar, a protein smoothie bar with yogurt and dried fruit, and new savory BBQ and everything bagel flavors. Innova reports that households with kids 6-18 have the highest consumption frequency and some crossovers and shapes align well with younger generations.

General Mills, Cocoa Puffs Soft Baked Oat Bars

Naturally flavored with 9g of whole grain from oats and wheat. United States, February 2024.

Irresistibles Naturalia Banana Chocolate Kids Mini Cereal Bars

Each 20g bar has 5g of protein, 70 calories, and 3g of sugar. Canada, September 2023.

About 38% of bar launches include a texture claim on the front of the package, and those claims have shifted as brands focus on delivering the satisfying comfort texture provides.

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Crispy +44%

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Crunchy +34%

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Soft +33%

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Chewy -29%

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Smooth -29%

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Creamy -67%

Meijer Crunchy Peanut Butter Energy Bars

With natural flavors and 13g protein per serving, this bar gives you “energy to power through the day.” United States, November 2023.

Go Krisp! Tiramisu Energy Square

This bar has 15g of protein, 4g of sugar, and is gluten-free and peanut free. Canada, September 2023.

Plant-Based Claims Are A Natural Fit for Nutrition Bars

Most shoppers expect a nutrition bar to be a healthy, yet indulgent snack. High protein, high fiber, low/no sugar, and simple ingredients are frequent callouts in the snack bar aisle. Plant-based claims naturally align with shoppers’ desire to enjoy products that taste good, are good for their health, and are good for the planet.

Plant-based nutrition bar innovation ticked up in recent years. In 2023, 45% of North American snack and nutrition bar launches carried a plant-based, vegan, or vegetarian claim (Mintel GNPD). That’s up from about 31% in 2019. Innova predicts more unusual and exotic nut and fruit ingredients and healthy green flavors like chia, hemp, or matcha for people who want more greens in their daily diet.

Misfits Chocolate Cookie Butter Flavored Plant-Powered Choc Protein Bar

Approved vegan, naturally flavored, 15g of plant-based protein and 1g of sugar, gluten-free, non-GMO, and carbon neutral. United States, November 2023.

Sweets from the Earth Caramel Pecan Bar

This indulgent bar is certified vegan, free from gluten, dairy, and egg, all-natural, Halal, and certified by the Canadian Celiac Association. Canada, January 2024.

Protein Makes Room For Additional Functionality Claims

According to Innova, 92% of U.S. snack bar launches from 2018-2023 made a health and/or lifestyle claim. While high protein and low/no sugar claims are category staples, the number of launches with these claims has slowed.

Percent of Launches With High Protein and Reduced Sugar Claims, Mintel GNPD

 

2019

2023

High-Protein

31%

21%

Reduced Sugar

12%

10%

The decline doesn’t mean protein and lower sugar aren’t important to buyers though. Almost 30% of people who buy nutrition bars say protein is a top purchase influencer, tied with low sugar and high fiber (Innova). Energy (which shares a link with protein) was a top claim in 2023, featured on two-thirds of bar launches, up from 47% in 2019.

Atkins Soft Baked Energy Bar Blueberry Protein Meal Bar

15g protein, 4g net carbs, 2g sugar, 10g fiber per serving, and naturally flavored to “keep one satisfied at mealtime.” United States, September 2023.

Dave’s Killer Bread Amped-Up Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Organic Protein Bars

This bar has 10g of protein, organic and non-GMO ingredients, no high fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, or artificial ingredients, and is
“power-packed” with wholegrains. United States, January 2024.

While protein claims will probably always be a staple for snack and nutrition bars, you might see other functional claims appearing in newer launches. Prebiotics is the fastest-growing functional claim in North America. According to Mintel, prebiotics are part of 17% of bar launch activity (up +300% over last year).

Prebiotics are plant fibers that feed the digestive system’s microorganisms and support overall digestive health. Some soluble plant fibers, like chicory, have a slightly sweet taste and are a versatile ingredient for formulators who want to boost fiber content and improve the overall nutrition profile without compromising on taste.

You might notice newer innovations delivering across several different themes. In the following examples, texture leads crossover cake bites and a “cookie-fied” bar but also offer an impressive lineup of functional benefits.

Snack Conscious Birthday Cake Bites

This plant-based snack has less than 2g of sugar per bite, probiotics, and natural flavors. They are Vegan, gluten-free, and boost energy and mood with adaptogens. Canada, January 2024

Lenny & Larry’s The Complete Cookie-fied Bar Chocolate Almond Sea Salt Bar

This “cookie-fied” bar has 12g of plant-based protein, 6g sugar, and 5g prebiotic fiber. Also gluten-free, soy-free. United States, November 2023

Creative Flavors Offer New Combinations and Exciting Tastes

Sweet brown flavors like chocolate, peanut butter, and cookie dough share the snack and nutrition bar leaderboard with familiar fruits like blueberry and mixed berry. But developers getting creative with new flavors, often combining already well-known tastes in exciting ways. In 2023, we saw 85 new flavor combinations in bar launches. About 44% of those flavors were new to the bar category like Mexican hot chocolate, dark chocolate peach, chocolate mint truffle, and white chocolate macadamia with ashwagandha and lion’s mane.

Innova predicts we’ll see more innovative flavors over the coming years, especially from smaller companies striving to stand out.

Evolve Chocolate Maple Coconut Clustered Bits

Contains pure Vermont maple syrup, coconut, cacao nibs, quinoa, pumpkin and chia seeds, teff, hemp and ashwagandha, flavored with vanilla. Plant-based, clean label, free from GMO, dairy, gluten, vegan, paleo and keto friendly. United States, September 2023

Member’s Mark Honey & Vanilla Flavored Nut & Fruit Clusters

Simple ingredients one can pronounce. Deliciously convenient cluster of goodness featuring an all-star lineup of cashews, sliced almonds, pepitas, dried cranberries, chia seeds, and vanilla and honey flavors. United States, November 2023

Need Help With Your Next Nutrition Bar Innovation?

Whether you’re crafting a tried-and-true flavor profile or formulating with functional ingredients, FlavorSum can support your innovation journey with insights, flavor creation, and applications expertise. Send us a message and we’ll connect with you to discuss your innovation plans and how we can help create delicious nutrition bars that align with evolving needs.

Author

Phil a’Becket

Phil a’Becket is the Senior Consumer Insights Manager for FlavorSum. He has eight years of experience in food ingredient market research, focusing on both primary research and secondary data analysis. He earned his MBA from Clemson University, and joined FlavorSum in 2022.

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