US sales of SimplyProtein grew 42% in 2020 while the wider nutrition bar category declined, said Lines, who led the brand while it was part of the Simply Good Foods business along with Atkins, but said that it had benefited from the greater attention and focus that comes from being a standalone company.
“All we’re focused on is winning in the plant-based protein, plant-based energy space,” he told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We’re aspiring to be a $100m brand in the next five years, and we're putting a lot of resources into innovation. We’re launching a kids product in the spring, but we’re also bullish on formats and occasions beyond just pure snacking formats, so we’re looking at breakfast and other areas. Could we get into granolas, breakfast powders, smoothies, crackers?”
The kids product – launching in the spring – taps into demand for lower sugar snacks that will keep kids fuller for longer, said Lines.
“The kids format is one of the only growth areas in the bar category, and so we’ve modified our formulas to create peanut-free crispy bars with 6g of protein, 90 calories and 2g of sugar. The products also have a lighter texture and we’ve got chocolate brownie and strawberry vanilla flavors, without being too sweet.”
Plant-based protein, low sugar
If you segment the [adult] nutrition bar space by protein content, there are bars with 1-10g protein, which are not really playing in the protein space; bars with 10-20g protein – which is where SimplyProtein plays; and products with 20-30g protein, which take you into meal replacement or sports nutrition, he said.
"Plant-based protein is the ‘mega-trend’ within the category right now," with some retailers exploring dedicated sets that flag up brands with this positioning, added Lines, who uses soy protein as the primary protein in bars (along with almonds and oats) and pea protein as the primary protein in bites.
“We’ve got 11-15g protein, 1-3g sugar, and 150-200 calories, so we’re low in sugar, we’ve got a solid amount of protein – and it’s plant-based, and we win on taste.
“Our target consumer is the mindful snacker that puts a lot of value in physical and mental health. She’s looking for energy and focus and low sugar and she’s also into plant-based meal solutions, smoothies, and other products that will give her sustenance and energy throughout the day.”
While Lines is playing close attention to what's happening in the functional ingredients space, from the trend around immunity (vitamin C, D, zinc etc) to adaptogens (ashwagandha, panax ginseng, turmeric etc), the most interesting opportunities for Simply Protein are more around energy, brain health, and focus, he said.
SimplyProtein is available in around 30 US States in food, drug, and some natural channel stores, and has room to grow in grocery, mass, club and natural, he said.
“On e-commerce, we’re underdeveloped, so we’re focusing on growing our presence and awareness, and we’re continuing to engage with consumers through our direct to consumer business.”