Could kids be the next bright spot for protein bars?
Snack bar makers are focusing on the children's food segment as an area of growth, according to Food Business News.
KIND, thinkThin, Orgain, Power Crunch and Kellogg's RXBAR are some of the snack bar brands that have introduced products aimed at kids.
These niche snack bars come with varying label claims such as gluten-free, reduced sugar or added protein, and feature flavors designed to appeal to younger palates. These include chocolate chip, peanut butter and jelly, red velvet and birthday cake.
The appeal of snacks seems to have no limit in the U.S., with sales hitting $33 billion in 2017, according to a Nielsen study. And snack bars — particularly granola, protein and meal replacement ones — have been at the top of the list in terms of dollar sales growth from 2013 to 2016, the study found.
Children, millennials and older adults are all regular consumers of snack bars that can be used for a variety of eating occasions. And despite warnings about high sugar, calorie and fat content, these products tend to sport a relative healthy halo. With Big Food desperate for growth, it makes sense to target children, particularly with brands and product attributes that are already well-known to the market and parents. In addition, if companies are able to get kids hooked on a product at a young age, they could evolve into coveted long-term customers.
Food manufacturers such as Kellogg took advantage of this trend when it announced the $600-million acquisition last fall of Chicago Bar Company, the maker of the RXBAR clean-label protein bars. In December, candy maker Mars took a minority stake in KIND, known for its better-for-you fruit and nut bars. Given the popularity of this segment, it's likely that more CPG companies will make similar moves.
KIND is debuting its KIND Kids line of granola bars in May, Food Business News reported. This follows the Fruit Bites snack products it introduced last summer, which are made with real fruit and no added sugar. While most kids may not care how much sugar their snacks contain, it's a good bet their parents are looking for healthy products for their children and could be won over by on-pack label claims that point out nutritional value-adds.
Less clear is how consumers may feel about added protein in kids' snack products. Glanbia's thinkThin has rolled out thinkKids gluten-free bars with 7 grams of protein; Power Crunch has debuted Snap Stick protein snacks for kids with 10 to 11 grams of whey protein; and Kellogg's debuted RXBAR Kids protein bars last year.
Whether it's yogurt, crackers or cookies, added protein can be found in practically any adult snack. But the ingredient hasn't been a common add-on in children's food products to date, although its natural presence is usually considered an asset. The dairy industry is advocating its products for kids, noting that aside from soy, plant-based beverages lack essential amino acids and therefore don't provide the complete protein growing children need.
Adult food and beverage trends often trickle down to the children's segment. As a result, it seems likely that protein will continue to crop up in kids' snacks — especially in the mega-popular bar format. Health-conscious parents may be concerned about the type of protein in these products. It would be wise for manufacturers to explore whether plant-based proteins may be a better fit for their target consumer rather than whey, or vice versa, and to call out that source on product packaging as consumer demand for transparency continues to grow.
- Food Business News Protein bar makers see growth in kids' segment