Health is a key driver for sales of food bars, which look set for an annual increase of around 9.9 percent over the next five years, according to new market research from Packaged Facts.
The division of MarketResearch.com predicts that retail sales will reach $5.1 billion by 2010.
The market is divided into four product groups: granola bars, nutritional/intrinsic health value bars, breakfast/cereal/snack bars, and rice snack squares.
Across all these groups most marketing and promotional activities have centered around two factors: health and convenience.
"Most new food bars introduced touted health benefits or nutritional content, highlighting everything from low sugar to high calcium. Health and wellness underscored most promotional developments whether it was through a cross-branding effort, and expert's sponsorship, or licensing," said the report.
As a whole, the market reached a growth peak of 15.45 percent in 2002. By 2004, however, it had plummeted to just 1.41 percent, largely as a result of waning interest in low carb.
One of the main proponents of the low carb lifestyle, Atkins Nutritionals, filed for bankruptcy protection in August.
However overall sales for food bars in 2005 are expected to reach $3.2 billion, signaling some recovery from the impact of low carb on the market as a whole.
A part of this recovery is high-carb granola bars, which Packaged Facts predicts will account for a larger share of the market in 2005. Indeed, they are expected to overtake nutritional/intrinsic health value bars, with 33.35 percent share compared to 29.90 percent for nutritional bars.
In 2004, nutritional bars had a 36.14 percent share while granola bars had 29.92 percent.
To a certain extent, consumers have moved on from low-carb to slow-carb. But publisher Don Montuori said he believes that low-glycemic is a difficult concept for mainstream consumers.
"Fiber/wholegrain is more prominent a trend in the US, and that is along the lines of low-glycemic," he told NutraIngredients-USA.com.
"Glycemic index is too complicated, whereas low fat and low sugar are more readily understandable."
Marketers are also promoting bar products designed to address specific health requirements - such as containing soy proteins to reduce the risk of health disease, and whey proteins that are said to help control blood sugar.
But as well as healthy benefits, consumers still want products to taste good.
"One of the raps against health food bars in the past is that they didn't always taste so good or have a great mouth feel. From the marketers point of view, they have got to give something more," said Montuori.
"The desire for something that tastes good will win out."
As for the convenience trend, Montuori said that bars are "the ultimate convenience food".
The idea is to get the nutrition you need, and they can be filling too. The taste is good, and it is in one easy to carry package."
The report also draws on research that food bar usage rates are highest among young adults - an age group that is often on the go and may not be so inclined to cook.
Occupying the top three market share spots are Kellogg Co, General Mills and Quaker Oats Company, with shares of 18.09, 15.64, and 15.56 percent respectively.
While the performance of these three remained fairly stable in 2004, a lot of the dynamism came from others - such as Kraft, which leapt from $74.47 to $168.44 million in food bar retail sales between 2004 and 2005, and Eicotech Corporation, which went form $49.05 to $55.53 million.
Montuori said that while food bars are relatively new as a category, the real change is in their cross-over into mainstream.
"We have been eating our food in bars for a while - granola bars have been around since the 1970s. The new twist is the health angle. They have gone from sports stores to supermarket checkouts."