When a snacking occasion hits, convenience store customers are reaching for grab-and-go treats, from more healthful energy and food bars to more indulgent cakes and cookies, and the same goes for breakfast.
Energy 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,” Lane said. “I believe that category is reinventing itself daily.”
Raising the Bar
Maryland-based High’s Dairy Stores, which has about 75 locations, finds breakfast bar customers gravitating toward Nature Valley bars. “It’s always a good staple to have, because it’s a well-known brand with a good price point,” said Pat Kelly, purchasing manager for High’s. Special K, Nutri-Grain and Kashi are also popular choices. When it comes to Sweet Snacks the chain carries a line of all America pies, Mrs. Freshley’s and Bon Appétit. Among energy bars, High’s offers include PowerBars, Cliff bars, Supreme and Detour, among others.
“Typically the customers buying the sweet snacks are not calorie counters. They like to get their sweets in the morning with their coffee,” Kelly said. “Then there are your customers who are looking for a healthier or lower-calorie option, and those are the customers picking up the Nature Valley or Special K bars.”
Both the grab-and-go and health and wellness trends are helping to spur growth among energy, food and breakfast bars.
“I think the energy and breakfast bar category will continue to grow over the next two years,” said Kelly. I don’t think it has peaked because consumers are more calorie conscious and health conscious, and getting more so everyday. Then you have the grab-and-go customers in c-stores, and these bars are perfect for them because they are fast and car friendly.”
One word describes what Americans want from their diet these days: convenience. As such, c-store shelves are seeing an influx of “energy-on-the-go” food touted to fight fatigue, fuel muscle growth or help you lose weight, and it’s guaranteed to fly off the shelves. That’s why sales of energy bars have seen incredible growth over the last decade, with more than $700 million in sales, according to research from Dietitian’s Edge. For 2013, the research group anticipates bar sales to continue projecting upward in U.S. convenience stores, drug stores and supermarkets.