“With more than 1,100 SKUs in the bar category, we knew we needed to do something unexpected, while also addressing consumer need for quality nutrition and good taste,” Abbott spokeswoman Lindsy Delco told FoodNavigator-USA.
She explained the company’s new snack brand Curate does this “by using wholesome ingredients to create snacks that have the same rich, unique flavor combinations you would expect from a chef – using ingredients you would find in your own kitchen,” such as Mission figs, Marcona almonds, balsamic vinegar, quinoa, chia seeds and elderberry.
“For every ingredient we included, we looked at the nutritional benefits it provided, how it added texture and dimension, how it helped keep the desired bar consistency or how it enhanced the bar’s flavor profile,” Delco added.
On trend ingredients, flavors
The result is a line-up of bars that are packed with fiber and plant-based protein, and flavor profiles that favor less sweet and more savory ingredients – all emerging and fast-growing food trends that are hallmarks of new category entrants from startups, but which have not yet been embraced by segment heavy-hitters, such as General Mills, Kellogg’s and Clif Bar, said Carl Jorgensen, director of global strategy of wellness at Daymon Woldwide.
“Abbott is taking a fairly sophisticated approach to the Curate brand that reflects a sound understanding of current trends in bars,” Jorgensen said. “Ingredients like sunflower kernels, hazelnuts, quinoa and chia are actioning the plant-based protein trend, and the flavor profiles move the brand away from the candy bar analog that has been the profile of bars for so long.”
For example, instead of offering the omnipresent white chocolate and macadamia nut, chocolate chip cookie or fudge brownie flavors favored by some of the large players, Curate’s line includes a Dark & Tempting bar with balsamic vinegar, fig and hazelnut; a Harmonious Blend bar with marcona almond and apricot paired with lemon, vinegar and honey; and a Sweet & Tart Berry Bliss bar, which includes blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and cranberries with almonds and chia seeds. The line also includes three bars that feature more traditional chocolate but with the addition of sea salt, almond butter or vanilla to offset the decadent overtones.
“Less sweet, more savory is the way forward for snack bars,” Jorgensen said, adding that “this week at the Biofach trade show in Germany there are many new bar introductions, the most promising of which are featuring savory global flavors such as Moroccan and Indian spices and Italian herbs, with minimal sugars.”
By moving quickly on flavor, lower sugar and newer plant-based proteins, “Curate may be able to elbow its way in” to the snack bar category, which IRI estimated was worth $5.69 billion as of mid-2015, Jorgensen said.
He added that with a projected 4% annual growth in value, according to Euromonitor, “there is clearly room for more entries” in the bar category – they just need to be clearly differentiated from other players.
Strong marketing presence necessary to cut through clutter
“Having said that, the marketing plan will need to be backed by solid funding and consistent execution over time to succeed,” Jorgensen said.
This is where Abbott deviates sharply from many of the startups reshaping the bar category.
As a well-established player in the nutrition space, with brands including infant formula Similac, Ensure shakes and ZonePerfect nutrition bars, Abbott has the connections with distributors, retailers and other category decision-makers to ensure the bars gain prominent placement on store shelves and the financial wherewithal to keep the new products in front of consumers through a full marketing program.
Abbott’s outreach efforts will focus heavily on sampling so consumers can taste the bars to understand what makes them different from competitors, Delco said.
“We’re going to have Curate Tasting Studios in eight markets across the country, as well as a robust marketing plan with digital and print media, PR, social and in-store marketing,” she added.
Fresh packaging for a fresh concept
The bars' bright, jewel-toned packaging also will help them standout on a shelf that often is dominated by earthy, natural colors or garish primary colors.
The packs also include a window that shows consumers the chopped nuts, dried fruit and chocolate in the bars – a design element that nods to shoppers’ desire for transparency and to better know what they will put in their bodies.
Finally, the packs list on the front in fun, eye-catching fonts the different key ingredients, as well as clear claims that the bars are gluten-free and non-GMO.
Together, these elements communicate quality and wellness, Jorgensen said.