Natural Foods Merchandiser

Merchandise smart for strong bar sales

Despite the recession, retailers won't want to lower the bar on their nutrition bar offerings, according to NFM's research.

Despite the recession, retailers won't want to lower the bar on their nutrition bar offerings, according to NFM's research. With endless new products from manufacturers, knowing the ingredients shoppers are looking for and how to position products to different demographics will be the keys to making the most of your bar sales.

The value factor
Although budget-conscious shoppers don't seem to be discounting bars as luxury items, they may be trading down from high-priced options to less costly versions, including granola bars, says Anthony Rosenfeld, marketing manager for British Columbia-based Sequel, which manufactures two raw-food-bar lines. For some, that might mean passing up $3 to $4 products for ones in the $1 to $2 range, according to Alexis Florio, spokeswoman for Larabar in Denver.

According to Mintel, a Chicago-based market-research firm, the two top-selling bars in the naturals channel, Clif Bar and Larabar, have reported solid growth, with Clif Bar posting double-digit growth in 2008 over 2007. Part of this continued success may arise from lower price points. For example, Clif Bar products are cheaper than many muffins and other ready-to-eat baked goods and are more nutrient-dense, says Kate Torgersen, spokeswoman for the Berkeley, Calif.-based company.

Ingredient inclinations
Diet bars are losing some ground, according to Mintel, but the market for raw-food bars is lighting up. An article in the New York Times in January spotlighted the health benefits of fruit and nut bars made with only a few ingredients, and Mintel reports that raw bars are driving athletic-bar growth. Plus, "people are also concerned about allergies," Rosenfeld says. Many shoppers are looking to avoid nuts or gluten, but Rosenfeld says some are also trying to avoid soy—a common energy-bar ingredient.

At the same time, some shoppers are looking for bars that multitask, providing extra nutrients in an on-the-go package. Kellogg introduced a line of DHA-fortified brain-health bars in September, catering to the supplement-seeking crowd—which is a significant market. Meanwhile, almost a third of respondents to a Mintel survey reported that they consume bars as a "vitamin/mineral supplement."

Don't overlook dads and lads
Women are generally considered the grocery-shopping decision makers, but dads are big-time bar buyers, according to Mintel. Retailers that reach out to busy fathers could gain in this category, because bar marketing generally focuses more on 18- to 25-year-old males, missing the father mark for the most part. And don't forget the kids. Parents looking for convenient, low-sugar snacks may find the solution in bar form.

Room for growth
Though nutrition and energy bars have been natural product store staples for some time, Mintel reports that only 14 percent of consumers are bar buyers. But there's a bar for just about everyone, so retailers are in the crucial position of connecting shoppers to the bars that suit their needs.

Hilary Oliver is a Denver-based writer.

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