Snacking for every occasion
Few product categories have undergone such dramatic changes as the functional bars category. In fulfilling consumer demands for indulgence, convenience and snacking, bars have become real all-rounders that manage to link healthy nutrition and great taste
When it comes to snack food, nutrition bars are among the best sellers – with good reason: They offer a fantastic blend of convenience, indulgence and health to a broad range of target groups.
With modern lifestyles and evolving eating habits, there has been a clear shift in the market for functional bars. Years ago, bars with added value were seen as niche products – most being protein bars aimed only at top athletes and body builders who were interested in boosting performance. Functionality was paramount, while taste was a secondary consideration. Today, functional bars no longer belong to such a niche. Slimming bars in particular are coming to the fore: People who want to keep an eye on their body shape or replace a meal with a bar can choose from various options with innovative ingredients.
At the same time as offering outstanding functionality, the new bar generation also features excellent taste. Thanks to technical strides forward in bar production and the successful development of new functional ingredients, manufacturers are able to offer pocket-sized snacks that would never have been possible before. Gerard Janssens, CEO of non-branded bar manufacturer VSI, explains, “We have witnessed many technical developments during recent years that have allowed us to produce bar variants of much better quality with regards to taste and texture than some years ago. For example, great advances in encapsulation technology have enabled us to prevent the unpleasant off-tastes associated with certain functional ingredients. And we have taken huge steps forward with the problem of binding different functionalities, thanks to intensive research, and also because completely new or more sophisticated ingredients have become available on the market.”
Featuring the most diverse flavours – ranging from sweet to savoury – bars today appeal to a much larger group of consumers. Alongside the good old sports bar, which has become more sophisticated in terms of taste as well as ability to support athletic performance and endurance, a broad range of bars are now available to suit almost any occasion: Organic variants, slimming and meal replacement products, “on-the-go” snacks, concepts promoting “beauty-from-within” and even gender specific bars.
Detecting and setting new trends
VSI has always been focused on research and development. When it comes to creating new products, the Dutch company is geared towards food legislation and current trends. At the moment, proteins are enjoying a successful comeback. In line with this trend, VSI recently presented an organic high protein bar containing 25 per cent protein. Made with pure milk proteins such as whey, the bar features a mellow and nougat-like texture at its core, with a soft chocolate covering – making it a delicious alternative to diet drinks or powders. Another benefit of whey is that it is low in fat and calories and reduces the appetite naturally – hence this bar helps consumers to eat less. Additionally, whey protein offers flavour and functional properties that allow manufacturers to improve the texture, stability and shelf-life of their products.
Depending on the concept and the customer’s demands, bars can be enriched with different layers and toppings. Fruity jellies, which are available in nearly all fruit varieties, or creamy toppings turn these sweet treats into indulgent snacks. When covered with a creamy yoghurt layer, the bar becomes a perfect alternative to chocolate – not only for sweet-toothed dieters who want to forget about their abstinence, but for confectionery lovers too.
In order to implement trends early, the VSI R&D team is always looking for promising new ingredients, even if they are still awaiting their approval or claim confirmation. It is expected, for example, that CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) will become an important ingredient in weight management. It has achieved GRAS status in the US, but Novel Food Approval in the EU is still pending. However, as soon as it is approved, the company will be ready to start production, without losing time on product development processes.
Savoury rather than sweet
Bars are almost instantly associated with sweetness – for the very reason that consumers are unfamiliar with any other concept. A savoury bar is completely contrary to the taste expectations that have evolved over the years. Henk Jan Neerhof, product development manager at VSI, explains, “You mustn’t try to re-educate consumers. It is more important to be aware of existing preferences and to take these as an opportunity.” Having looked at the savoury snack market, the VSI development team concluded that crispness is the most decisive factor in any savoury snack. Thus, the company decided to develop a savoury bar that is as crispy and un-sticky as possible. Available in the taste variants pizza, wasabi, bacon and chili, the bar really is an ideal meal replacement and offers an appealing solution for those who prefer a hearty snack to a sweet treat.
From snacking to slimming – ingredients for every occasion
Professional and amateur athletes alike can benefit from convenient bars that offer functional ingredients. Enriched with L-Carnitine, for instance, bars can support fat burning. Others could contain caffeine or superfruits rich in antioxidants that protect the body’s cells from oxidative damage – and these are just a few of today’s promising ingredients. Even concepts for “beauty-from-within” have become marketable. Refined with Aloe Vera, a crispy bar promotes a healthy skin appearance – an attractive snack especially for women.
Dietary fibre is already important in the bar market. For people who are often on-the-go, bars can provide a quick and easy source of daily fibre. Additionally, some dietary fibres can be used partially to replace sugar. In this case, bars not only offer fewer calories but are also low-glycemic and thus suitable for those with diabetes, too.
The desire for innovation has led VSI to develop a wide array of bespoke bars and interesting novelties, such as a 40g bar with only 99 calories per serving. Compared to the existing standard, this is extremely low, given the fact that most 99 calorie bars only weigh about 25g. The VSI bar therefore has a much better satiety effect for the same amount of calories.
Taste – the strongest selling proposition
Regardless of whether a bar is intended for weight management, sports or snacking, taste remains the key to its success. This means that manufacturers must be mindful of the processes and reactions that will take place within the bar during production, as well as throughout its entire shelf life. Vitamins and minerals, for instance, tend to create robust and tough nougat bars and can produce off-tastes. Thanks to intensive research and technical advances, VSI is able to overcome these potential difficulties and produce premium bars with carefully matched flavours and ingredients.
To satisfy various tastes and preferences, snack bars might be based on fruits, nuts or proteins. They could be partially or fully coated, with different coverings available in milk, dark and white chocolate as well as yoghurt. They could have a soft and delicious filling as well as a granulated topping with chocolate or almond pieces. They could be crunchy or soft, single-layered or with multiple layers… the possibilities are virtually limitless.