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PG Web Extra: Behind Cereal Bars


Cereal bars promise the nutrition and taste of cereal in a highly convenient format, but how well have they been delivering the goods?

After all, according to Schaumburg, Ill.-based Nielsen for the 52 weeks ending Nov. 19, 2016, breakfast bars, many of which contain cereal grains, saw a 6.9 percent sales dollar slide, with granola and yogurt bars essentially flat, showing a 0.1 percent dip in sales dollars.

“We have heard over and over again that our consumers want hardworking ingredients and delicious options to fuel their day-to-day life,” notes Kate Barton, senior marketing manager for Nature Valley, a brand of Minneapolis-based General Mills, adding that the brand has focused our recent product innovations to include … nut butters, pumpkin seeds and whole nuts, all offered at an affordable price.”

These products include gluten-free Nature Valley Protein Bars, made with 10 grams of protein; Nature Valley Biscuit Sandwiches, an innovative pairing of nut butters and breakfast biscuits in three varieties; and the expansion of a “real food” offering with Nature Valley Crunchy Nut & Seed Bars, featuring nuts, oats, pumpkin seeds and quinoa crisps.

Nature Valley has also grown one of its most popular sublines with Sweet and Salty XL Chewy Granola Bars, now “50 percent larger and packed with even more of the good stuff,” as Barton puts it, and has introduced Granola Cups, which she describes as “a brand-new form in the bars category” offering creamy peanut or almond butter poured into crunchy granola cups, dipped in chocolate and topped with nuts.

“Nature Valley has a bar for everything: whether it’s a midmorning snack, post-soccer game treat, or late-afternoon indulgence,” asserts Barton, noting that the product line gives “consumers the fuel they need and in the variety they crave – wherever their day may take them.”

East Hartford, Conn.-based Bakery On Main, meanwhile, introduced 4-4-8 Granola bars in March 2016. The bars are “packed with a powerful combination of 4 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber and only 8 grams of sugar,” explains CEO Michael Smulders of the certified gluten-free, Non-GMO Project Verified, kosher, and dairy- and casein-free items. “They are loaded with bakeshop delicious flavor in four fearlessly unique varieties and are a perfect start to your morning or for a quick on the go snack.”

Similarly striving to meet the convenience and health needs of cereal bar consumers, Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. has added Caramel Almond Sea Salt and Chocolate Coconut Cashew flavors to its Special K Nourish line of bars, as well as launching poppable snack items Special K Nourish Bites and Special K Protein bites, the former featuring no artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, while the latter offers 9 grams of protein per serving, and Nutri-Grain Bakery Delights, which the company says “deliver a delicious cake texture, a fresh-baked taste, 8 grams of whole grain, and no artificial flavors, preservatives and colors.”

In common with Kellogg, Longmont, Colo.-based Soul Sprout, formerly Two Moms in the Raw, which aims to provide “cereal and snack bars that contain all of the powerful benefits of sprouted and plant-powered ingredients,” has also observed “that customers are leaning towards bites for breakfast and snacks, which is why it’s the perfect time to launch our new 3-ounce Almond Butter Bites early this year,” according to CEO Matt Fuller.

Soul Sprouts’ products deliver what Fuller refers to as “Accelerated Nutrition,” which is accomplished “through a variety of proprietary processes that start with sprouting raw seeds, nuts and grains to increase their enzyme activity, which makes it easier for your body to absorb the nutrition they have to offer.”

Along with an emphasis on healthier product, he notes, “We’re seeing that manufacturers are offering more transparency than ever before to accommodate the ingredient-conscious consumer.”

“We saw a really positive response from consumers on our line of Stone Ground Whole Wheat Fig Bars [and] Gluten-Free Fig Bars made with ancient grains,” notes Andrew C. Strolin, VP of marketing at Reno, Nev.-based Nature’s Bakery. “We believe that the response is due [to] being able to meet consumers’ demand for great-tasting cereal bar options that cater to on-the-go lifestyles.”

Originally introduced in 2014, the four-SKU Gluten-Free Fig Bar line is also Non-GMO, vegan, kosher and dairy-free, “so they can be enjoyed by anyone,” as Strolin points out, adding, “They were received well as a bar for breakfast, but, as we’ve learned in time, actually fulfill a broader consumer need beyond breakfast, serving multiple occasions and uses throughout the day.”

The company remains dedicated to meeting shoppers’ needs in this segment. “As consumers continue to want healthy options, we are responding with products that are part of broader food philosophies like gluten-free, vegan and organic,” asserts Strolin.

Like his counterparts at other cereal bar manufacturers, he believes that the current interest mindful eating practices will only rise. “With consumers also becoming more and more conscious of what they eat and what they feed their children, we see continuing growth in increased consumer demands for products with limited and less processed ingredients,” he says.

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When it comes to merchandising, Barton says, “Since Nature Valley is such a strong brand and a staple in many a household, frequent display has been a key driver of success for us at retail to showcase our whole portfolio.”

Nature’s Bakery makes its products accessible at such mainstream, family-friendly stores as Costco and Target, and recently became the primary sponsor of Danica Patrick, NASCAR’s only female driver, as a way “to introduce the Nature’s Bakery products to broader audience.”

Meanwhile, Soul Sprout’s relaunch under its new name in August 2016 necessitated a whole new look.

“Our cereal, nut and granola bars were rolled out to retailers with revamped packaging and recipes that best represent our company and mission,” explains CEO Matt Fuller, adding that “consumers are drawn towards simple but bold packaging that highlights the transparency of the ingredients used, an element that Soul Sprout has embraced to stand apart visually in the snack aisles.”

Indeed, the appearance of a product is a major consideration, according to Nature’s Bakery’s Strolin: “We see more experimentations with packaging,” he asserts. “A lot of consumers equate brands with packaging alone, so we see imagery shifting to directly showcase ingredients and healthy product attributes.”

And since, as Fuller notes, manufacturers are “going to new lengths to utilize sustainable production methods and eco-friendly packaging,” Soul Sprout presents its bars in boxes that are 100 percent recyclable and made from 100 percent recycled/35 percent post-consumer waste material.

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