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.
“We think the category is going to go through the roof,” declared Dennis Lane, a 7-Eleven franchisee in Boston and the former president of the national 7-Eleven Franchise Owners Association (FOAC). “Kellogg and some of the other companies have a tremendous amount of new offerings. I’m excited at the way the Special K brand keeps getting reinvented in a bar form. This category is emerging as a wonderful complement to the AM drive and morning coffee customer.”
In addition to breakfast bars, companies like Mars, MET-Rx and Supreme Protein are embracing consumer trends and rolling out a variety of bar products that are aimed at the morning and afternoon dayparts.
“I think everyone recognizes there is a big opportunity here. I’ve been doing this for 37 years and I’ve never seen such a strong focus on this category,” Lane said. “I believe that category is reinventing itself daily.”
Certainly, today’s heightened concerns about childhood obesity favor the category. According to health professionals, kids who make the time for a low-calorie, healthy breakfast usually have higher math grades; are less depressed, anxious and hyperactive; are more likely to attend class, and on time; have a longer attention span; are less likely to be overweight; and enjoy an improved overall ability to learn.
Lane likes the fact that there are a lot of in-store promotions being made available to retailers, such as buy a box/get a box, especially on new SKUs. Connected with these offers are deals for consumers that help ease pressure on the wallet.“There are a tremendous amount of deals involving two-fers and the consumers just love it,” Lane said. “When you’ve got a two for one or when it’s tied to a special price, the consumers tend to buy two.”
Lane’s 7-Eleven stores merchandise breakfast and energy bars at the stores’ coffee bars. The company also cross merchandises some of the newer Special K and other products in the energy section. “We also cross merchandise with the cereal cups, which have also become a big seller for us, so we merchandise them together.”
Lane said bars, in all forms, are attracting more female customers. “That healthy or 100-calorie tag line on a lot of packages seems to be important to our consumers, especially since we’re in the new year and everyone has made a resolution to lose weight.”
Lane remains high on the category’s prospects for 2012. “It’s an exciting time for the category. Key manufacturers aren’t allowing the category to become stagnant. They’re acutely aware of and delivering what consumers want.”