The food bar category experienced double-digit sales growth in 2010, but 2011 could prove to be a challenging year.
The snack bars/granola bars category experienced sharp sales gains in 2010 as on-the-go consumers were looking for quick meal solutions that wouldn’t break the bank.
Total snack bar sales jumped 11.26% to $534.9 million for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 26, 2010, according to SymphonyIRI Group. Unit sales measured 455,963,200 for the same period, up 8.73%. The average price per unit totaled $1.17, up three cents from the previous year.
Mintel International reported that cereal and snack bar sales have risen 50% over the last five years to nearly $1.7 billion, with the strongest growth in 2006-2007 driven by a surge in new product introductions. The category’s momentum stagnated in 2008-2009 due to economic conditions. While SymphonyIRI data shows sales were up in 2010, food bar sales at convenience stores could face some tough times in 2011.
“I am expecting that convenience stores will take a hit this year, largely because of the number of stores that are attached to gas stations,” said Bill Patterson, U.S. Reports manager at Mintel. “Given that the U.S. consumer will likely follow the same behavior pattern as in the last gas price hike, this will decrease the number of shopping occasions on which people are spending at gas station convenience stores.”
Plus, as customers spend more on gas, they may be less likely to spend on impulse purchases, such as a food bar snack for the drive home.
Steve Nalu, owner of Towns Mart Convenience Stores, in Romeo, Mich., is more optimistic. He has seen snack bars increase in popularity, especially with health-conscious customers—both those who appear to be stopping by on their way home from the gym and older consumers, who tend to be more health conscious in general. As a result, Towns Mart has beefed up its snack bar offering with positive results.
Food bars fit neatly into the continuing health and wellness trend, touting claims of wholesome, natural ingredients.
Product portability makes them ideal for customers seeking a grab-and-go snack. But this also places cereal and snack bars in competition with the many other convenient better-for-you snack options on c-store shelves, such as yogurt, trail mix, fruit cups and cheese.
New cereal and snack bar product launches continue to drive the category, emphasizing functional health benefits, all-natural and organic ingredients, taste and variety. Granola bars outsell cereal bars by a small margin and account for a little more than 50% of total category sales, according to Mintel.
As for ingredient trends, Mintel’s Patterson noted that the move away from artificial sweeteners and high levels of sodium across food categories is likely to impact food bars throughout 2011.
“Note how soda companies are now offering sugar-based options on the understanding that they are ‘more natural,’ and there is a significant focus on sodium/salt levels right now, so I would expect bars to be lowering salt levels,” Patterson said.
“Bars have always struggled to define themselves, fluctuating between healthful—ranging from simple to functional ingredients like those found in a variety of protein bars—and indulgent snacks,” Patterson said. “There is a continuing quest to bring out a high-protein bar that tastes good, so anyone moving bars in that direction should do well.”