The first sports and energy bars in the U.S. were marketed primarily to serious athletes, through alternative channels such as health food stores. These bars did not have wide appeal or distribution as recently as 1990, but over the past two decades these products have since gained mass appeal and distribution after greatly improving flavor and continuing a consistent health and fitness message. Sports and energy bars have come of age and have gained prominent displays in convenience stores nationwide.
The huge leap the category has made is from a niche product for endurance athletes to an anytime meal replacement or snack for anyone leading an active lifestyle. Key formulation changes usually involve nutrients, such as soy or folic acid, but some of the fastest growing brands are the chocolate-covered varieties of previous sales leaders. Sports and energy bars suit current lifestyles by being the perfect snack food: convenient, portable, nutritious and tasty. The market has rapidly specialized in order to target the growing number of interested consumers, including women, the diet conscience (both for weight loss and general health) and those with special dietary needs such as arthritics and diabetics.
The changes in the market’s structure have aided its growth. Over the past five years, the share of sports and energy bar products sold in health food stores dwindled from 38.7% to 7.5% as the mass distribution networks of supermarkets and conveniences stores took control, Mintel International reported. In addition, the competitive arena has transformed from a fragmented market owned almost entirely by small and regional players to one that is now largely controlled by conglomerates.
As energy and health trends continue to dominate consumer focus, energy bars are bringing in sales for c-stores, though the economy hurt sales dollars in 2009. For the 52 weeks ending Dec. 27, 2009, IRI reported c-stores totaled $236.26 million in sales of energy bars, down 4.7% from 2008. The industry sold 114.41 million bars in 2009, down 7%, but the price and margin held firm. The average price for a bar was $2.06, up five cents from the prior year.
New Products Coming
More new bar options are available in the market in a larger variety of flavors. Last year brands began offering more raw and natural options instead of processed, protein-packed products that dominated the category before.
While the number of energy products continues to expand year over year in the U.S., consumers can expect to see energy concepts grow well beyond the non-beverage format, according to Mintel.
“Energy drinks have quickly become a daily beverage choice,” said Krista Faron, senior new product analyst at Mintel. “As more Americans use energy drinks, we’ve seen a rise in products being launched with innovative new ingredients, claims and consumer targets.” She added, “energy bars are familiar to many Americans, but other energized foods, such as candy, chips, milk and cereal, are definitely not. We expect the concept of energy—both physical and mental—to greatly influence food product development.”
Caffeine is also emerging in foods from energy bars to cereals. “Energy is poised to take food in a new direction, giving consumers who need a boost different ways to get it,” Faron said. “From natural energizers like omega-3s or antioxidants to foods fortified with energizing ingredients, we are seeing ‘energy’ emerge as a core benefit in new food products.”
Top Nutritional/Health Bar Brands
|BRAND||SALES DOLLARS||% Sales Change||Unit sales|
|Total Nutritional Health Bars||$236,265,700||-4.70%||114,416,100|
|Kellogg’s Special K Protein||$27,096,280||37.35%||16,112,300|
|Power Bar Protein Plus||$22,930,480||14.87%||8,617,855|
|Met Rx Protein Plus||$13,629,350||-14.98%||4,300,230|
|Snickers Marathon Bar||$13,220,430||-12.49%||7,169,920|
|Met Rx Big 100||$10,980,120||-2.66%||3,448,347|
|Power Bar Triple Threat||$10,900,250||-12.97%||6,083,717|
|Met Rx Big 100 Colossal||$10,849,740||-1.32%||3,402,132|