Natural Foods Merchandiser

Too Many Bars, Too Little Space

One bar makes you larger, and one bar makes you small.

There are protein bars to build lean muscle mass and weight-loss bars to satisfy dieters? cravings for sweets. Energy bars with extra carbs and low-carb bars with fewer carbs. Organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, added hemp. No soy. Extra soy! Raw bars, organic bars, bars for kids, for women, for arthritics, for marathoners, for vegans.

And there?s a bar down the street from your store, where you can drown your sorrows while figuring out which bar products you ought to carry.

Posting 38 percent sales growth last year, which brought the category to $2.3 billion in sales, the nutrition bar business will keep growing as flavor and ingredients improve, according to Nutrition Business Journal. As it grows, the category is splintering into niches and subniches.

Between August 2002 and February 2004, 192 bars and gels entered the market, says Don Montuori, acquisitions editor for Packaged Facts, which just published a report estimating the sports nutrition business at more than $3 billion in 2003, including supplements, drinks and powders.

Even if retailers have the shelf space, ?You can get too much and confuse the consumer,? says Marty Burman, owner of Burman?s Natural Foods in Brookhaven, Pa. Two thousand-square-foot Burman?s has a 12-foot section of ?just basically bars.?

First developed by and for serious athletes, ?energy bars? were designed to provide a boost for those literally on the run. Brian Maxwell, who died in March at age 51, invented the PowerBar to get him through the last five miles of a marathon.

Sales grew slowly until the late 1990s. With taste improvements, mainstream consumers began to view energy bars as a less guilt-inducing version of candy bars, and the category grew from $500 million in 1997 sales to $2.3 billion last year, according to NBJ.

The bar category aims to become broad enough to meet any meal or dietary need, small enough to slip into a pocket, and compact enough to down while doing other things, from ultramarathons to a rough day at the mall.

As ?anytime? sales grew, more bars flowed into supermarkets and convenience stores. According to Mintel, naturals stores? share of the bar business fell from 38.7 percent in 1998 to 8 percent in 2002. In 2000, Nestl? purchased PowerBar and Kraft bought Balance Bar; those two companies plus Clif Bar hold 45 percent of the market, according to NBJ.

To compete, naturals stores are seeking out niche products and small producers. They?re also evaluating the demographics of their customers: Are they serious athletes, people with chronic illness, bodybuilders, vegetarians, dieters or some combination?

?First thing is, the thing?s gotta taste good,? says Tom Sokoloff, owner of two Paradise Health Food stores in Melbourne and Palm Bay, Fla.

Good flavor in a snack seems like a no-brainer. But bar manufacturers have struggled, and though Sokoloff notes products have improved ?tremendously? in the last year or so, reviews of various bars on the Web site still lean to comments like ?OK tasting,? ?chocolate sawdust? and ?completely offensive.?

?Taste is a big issue in the protein category,? concedes Dean Mayer, spokesman for Clif Bar, which hopes to do better with its Builder?s line that launches this month.

Paradise Health encourages its workers to eat the products and weigh in on the ones they like. One employee raved about a Chef Jay?s Tri-O-Plex bar he?d bought elsewhere. ?We need to get these—they?re good,? the worker said about the line, which has a whopping 33 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber per bar. Sokoloff stocked them and sure enough, they sell, he says.

Several small manufacturers are championing a backlash against overly processed products that hide questionable ingredients behind wholesome names and outdoorsy images. Denver-based L?rabars are unsweetened, raw blends of fruits and nuts, with no more than six ingredients. The Cashew Cookie flavor has just two: dates and cashews.

Organic Food Bar of Fullerton, Calif., sells certified organic, nondairy, kosher, vegan snacks, including Active Greens bars with phytonutrients and Omega-3 bars with sprouted flax. Both brands? marketing materials deride other bars as ?junk food.?

38 percent of bars are sold as meal replacements.
Another consideration: which part of the day the bars sell in and why customers eat them. According to NBJ?s ?Sports Nutrition and Weight Loss Report,? 38 percent of bars are sold as meal replacements. Protein bars represent 21 percent of the market, energy bars 20 percent, low-carb 12 percent and women?s bars 9 percent.

?They?re coming in at breakfast, looking for a meal replacement, something with a little protein that will sustain them,? Sokoloff says.

Another category on an upward trend is wheat-free, dairy-free and/or gluten-free bars like those from Aunt Candice Foods of Wilsonville, Ore., or Betty Lou?s of McMinnville, Ore. ?That?s a whole new category for us, and they?re selling like crazy,? Sokoloff reports. Last year, Abbott Labs bought ZonePerfect Foods for its bar expertise and added nutrition bars to its Glucerna line for diabetics. Although discounters and warehouse stores use low prices to move cases of popular brands, Burman notes, ?I?m not giving away margin? just to build volume on a product that generally sells for less than $2. Berkeley, Calif.-based Clif Bar offers six separate lines, some aimed at naturals stores, others at convenience stores, says Mayer. Luna Glow low-carb bars are an extension of its women?s Luna Bar line, which Packaged Facts? Montuori describes as ?a masterstroke of marketing.? Clif also tweaked packaging and formulation on its Mojo line of trail-mix-in-a-bar and previewed the Clif Builder?s protein bar, with 20 grams of natural soy and nut protein and pictures of manly men on the package.

?You can see us entering the kids? bar arena very shortly,? Mayer predicts.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 5/p. 18, 21

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