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“Understand your consumer’
SPINS’ market insights director, Scott Dicker, jumpstarted the conversation with a high-level overview of snack bar market drivers. Overall, the snack category was hit particularly hard by inflation and price increases, he explained. Yet, this provides an opportunity for brands to “understand your consumer and which…attributes will really resonate with them…which [will] be the key to success.”
Ingredient-wise, protein and fiber-enhanced bars are doing well despite low units and high sales. Dicker explains that despite inflation and increased competition, brands using functional ingredients can position themselves clearly through attribute-driven communications to grab and maintain consumer attention.
Flavors are still driving both snack and wellness bars, Dicker says. “You see [snack bars] that are growing both in dollars and units…Chocolate mint, apple blends, cookies and cream and oatmeal seem to be doing well…with a lot more of these gourmet flavors and specialty flavors driving some sales,” he clarified.
Nutrition and function matter, but so do taste and texture
While nutritional concerns and dietary restrictions are key category differentiators, focusing on ingredients to drive those health benefits (brain health, gut health, etc.) are essential, along with a formulation that highlights flavor and texture, explains Sarah Philips, vice president, Emil Capital.
“In terms of differentiation, there’s obviously addressing nutritional concerns or dietary restrictions…and more recently I’ve seen addressing more specific functional benefits and I think ingredients is kind of a very simply way to cover all of these things because it matters what you put into your product,” she explains.
“The big differentiator is flavor and texture. A consumer will always try a bar but what keeps them coming back is that they want to eat it over and over, day after day,” Philips adds.
Conscious consumers are also looking to relate to a brand that addresses their dietary and lifestyle needs as soon as they pick it off the shelf.
“I think the number one place where you can differentiate is always on pack. That’s your number one point of communication, what sort of messaging you prioritize,” she emphasized.
Building brand guardrails ‘so you don’t lose sight of who you are as a brand’
From a brand perspective, one of the first steps in building a viable brand is defining guardrails that will ultimately help companies navigate through shifting consumer preferences and economic turns, which Julia Shapiro, VP, brand and content, Aloha and John Olsen, brand marketing director, KIND bar elucidated on during the discussion.
“You have to define what your guardrails are…so you don’t lose sight of who you are as a brand and as a company,” Shapiro emphasizes.
ALOHA’s focus since 2015 is on organic, plant-based protein, which has helped build a loyal customer base “because that’s what they expect from us,” Shapiro says.
For KIND Bar, it’s focusing on familiar ingredients in each vertical, namely its 14-or-more almonds per bar. The company recently launched its Soft Baked Squares driven by after-dinner usage occasions to invite new and existing consumers to experience the brand with a brownie-like texture that’s different from its classic KIND bar, but still connected through ingredient familiarity (almonds), taste, appearance and nutrition.
“I think the most important factor there is, is absolute clarity and absolute commitment to the very few key things that define your brand both in terms of the product as well as in terms of consumer communication,” Olsen explains.
“The higher-level brand ethos for KIND means what? They’re referred to as the KIND promise. The first ingredient on every product we have in market is always going to be an FDA recommended nutrient dense, recognizable food that consumers know and love. And we refuse to believe that you have to make a choice between health and taste,” he says.
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