According to a recent Mintel online survey of 1,377 consumers over the age of 18, when asked which product attributes are most important to them when choosing a snack, nutrition, or performance bar, the amount of protein and sugar came out on top (52% and 43%, respectively).
Other attributes that resonated with consumers included the protein source (34%), carbohydrate amount (26%), a short ingredients list (23%), and sweetener source (20%).
Presenting at FoodNavigator-USA’s Snack Bar Trends webinar last month, Mintel's director of innovation and insights Lynn Dornblaser said, “Clearly, consumers are focused on protein, but it isn’t just about protein,” noting increasing consumer interest in products that promote immunity, detox, beauty, and sleep.
‘This is a resource to gain their collagen’
When MCTco launched, it was initially focused on “taking on sugar” with a low-sugar, protein bar alternative that didn’t come with a laundry list of ingredients, said CEO and co-founder, Joe Christensen.
“It was completely looking under the hood of something that was built 25 years ago."
Christensen, who worked as certified personal trainer and clinical nutritionist, knew he wanted the final product to be ‘keto-friendly’ with a low net carbohydrate count and high fat content, a diet to which he has introduced “hundreds” of his clients over the years.
It took over a year until the brand launched a viable product onto the market working with a co-packer, originally using stevia and pea protein, which gave the bars a “very earthy” flavor and “funky aftertaste,” said Christensen.
Through a recommendation from one of its investors, the company switched its sweetener to monk fruit and replaced its pea protein with grass-fed collagen protein to create a bar that delivers on taste and nutrition.
The brand was deliberate in its use of collagen as its protein source, said Christensen, claiming that very few consumers are getting enough of the protein in their diet.
“We assumed that the consumer was taking in other types of protein throughout the day but that they were missing their collagen. This is a resource to gain their collagen,” said Christensen.
As an added benefit, the use of collagen has improved the taste and texture of the bars, he said, a sensory challenge the brand was struggling with when using pea protein.
“This is meant to be a low-sugar, high-quality protein option with protein that you likely aren’t supplementing with, and if you are, you probably aren’t getting enough of it,” he said.
According to collagen protein manufacturer Gelita, new product launches containing collagen in the bars category more than tripled in 2019 vs 2018.
The target consumer
According to Christensen, the brand has and will continue to strike a chord with keto followers, but has also tapped into a larger audience of middle-aged women – which account for 70% to 75% of its customer base – who have grown tired of legacy products, which no longer meet their nutrition expectations.
“They’re in a ‘change state’ where Clif Bar no longer checks the box for them,” said Christensen.
And their consumer behavior gives the brand an ‘in’ into the household where it can drive deeper sales and larger, bulk ordering.
“These are the same folks that are buying for their family, so we’re not just selling one box online, we’re selling four, five, or six, so they’re stocking up. That was true even before COVID,” he said.
Move into beauty and immunity
MCTco has kept its innovation engine humming even during the global pandemic with the launch of three new bars, which address other growing health priorities for consumers being immunity and hair, skin, and nail health.
“This July we’re doubling down on that collagen affect by adding biotin and vitamin E to two of our products – ‘berry beautiful’ and ‘banana beautiful’,” said Christensen.
The brand’s third product launch, its ‘lemon boost’ bar, contains turmeric, ginger, and lemon oil, and will be the brand’s first foray into the growing immunity support category.
In order to drive awareness and trial for its existing and new products, Christensen said the brand will be transitioning to “dry trial”, which involves handing out samples of individually-packaged snack-bite versions of its products that can later be sold online or at certain retailers.
“Trial is critical because it’s such a crowded category,” said Christensen.
The brand is continuing to push its online presence by selling direct-to-consumer through its own website, and through Amazon, as well as at a growing list of grocery retailers including Sprouts stores nationwide as well as gyms and workout studios.