How consumer health perceptions are changing the snack bars market

Healthy snacking continues to go from strength to strength, with snack bar categories now starting to merge as personalised nutrition becomes the norm

25 February 2020
ambientfunctional foodnutritionproteinsnacking

It’s no secret that UK consumers have become very snack-centric over the past few years. Indeed, according to a recent survey by Mintel, they are the biggest snackers in Europe, with 66% of UK adults saying they snack at least once a day and 37% of 25 to 34-year-olds revealing they snack instead of having a proper meal at least once a week.

Trends in health and wellness have become key drivers in snack NPD across multiple retail categories, with everything from brain boosting snack bars to gluten-free versions of ambient classics appearing on shelves over the past year.

In the last two years, there has been a 33.4% increase in the number of buyers of healthy snacks in the UK (Kantar). The free-from sector is expected to grow by 18% over the next three years (Euromonitor), while the rise of wellbeing in snacking is now having a blending effect on categories across the snack bar market.

Traditional perceptions of nutrition bars are changing, explains Nick Morgan, director of nutrition consultancy Nutrition Integrated, thanks to the rise in health and wellness.

“Existing stereotypes or ‘categories’ become less and less relevant. A nutrition bar can be an endurance bar, while a weight management bar can be a food bar,” Morgan tells Nutraingredients section editor, Nikki Hancocks.

“We are redefining what positioning means now and its 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 bars are a great market for trying something new.”

Raising the bar

According to Mondalez’ The State of Snacking 2019 report released in November, the top consumer hopes for snack foods in the future are that they become more functional to meet nutritional needs (47%) and provide more personalized nutrition (42%), with Morgan claiming that bar market insight is key to understanding evolving market trends.  

“The bar market is the leading player for how all market trends are playing out,” he said. “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.”

Nutrition Integrated are to release an in-depth European food market trends report this week (an analysis of 5,000 bars from across the EU) which reveals that – between 1st July and 31st December 2019 - products with claims of ‘high protein’ and ‘low sugar’ saw a net market increase (more new products entering than those leaving), while ‘high energy’ and ‘natural’ saw a net decrease, with Morgan saying that health claims on pack change at quite a rate.

Searching for snacks

By utilising consumer search insight from Google Trends, the report also reveals a low demand for ‘high energy’ claims.

“This could be a terminology issue,” explains Morgan. “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 then in energy, when it comes to bars.”

Bars with ‘natural’ claims, meanwhile, have also diminished, with Morgan blaming negative sugar perceptions.

“I think it demonstrates how tricky it is to be ‘natural’ and great tasting,” he says. “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 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.”

In terms of opportunities in the evolving snack bar realm, Morgan highlights the emerging keto category.

“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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