Protein continues to build strength
Protein bars have been flying off the shelves in mass outlets lately. Sales of nutritional bars were up 3.4% to $2.4 billion for the 52 weeks ended April 16, according to IRI across total U.S. multi-outlets.
One reason for the increase is the multitude of consumer segments now shopping the category. First, there is the core group of performance athletes who have incorporated protein supplements into their pre- and post-workout routines. “These are dedicated athletes, bodybuilders and weekend warriors who are interested in benefit-driven products that help them achieve an edge, drive harder and recover faster to meet fitness goals and gain muscle,” Timothy Monk, general manager at EAS Sports Nutrition, told Drug Store News. “And these consumers are looking for efficacy and specific benefits, whether it’s energy, power, muscle mass or recovery.”
Then there are also the holistic health enthusiasts who are “interested in clean eating to achieve a general healthy lifestyle. They look for organic, non-GMO, 100% plant-based natural products to supplement protein in both vegan and flexitarian lifestyles,” he said.
They’re also the early adopters of the category, who help identify emerging brands or ingredient trends for the other two consumer segments. For example, there are the consumers in pursuit of an active lifestyle and/or weight management. “They are looking for low-calorie, high-protein products to help them manage hunger between meals and to nourish muscles post-exercise,” Monk said. In terms of flavor trends, the category is broadening beyond traditional chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavors and into more coffee varieties and novel options, such as cinnamon or birthday cake.
(Click here to view the full Special Report: Weight management, sports nutrition and vitamin)
Sweet news: Candy makers can capitalize on these trends
If IRI’s latest Pacesetters report on the biggest consumer packaged goods product launches in 2016 could be summed up in one message, it’s that consumers are looking for healthier options. The trend extends to consumables with 57% of food and beverage categories with healthier solutions growing faster than the sector average.
Healthy options are just one area presenting opportunities for candy makers to capitalize on, according to a report from cocoa and chocolate supplier Cargill on 2017 candy trends. Other opportunities include indulgent sensory experiences, premium ingredients, sustainability and engaging the consumer through technology.
Healthy choices that consumers look to make are largely driven by a desire to know what’s in their food, with 42% of those IRI surveyed saying a big factor in considering a new product is whether it has easy-to-understand ingredients. Taking these interests to heart, and citing a Label Insight survey showing 94% of consumers want to know how their food is made, Hershey is undertaking a “smart snacking” commitment.
The company has plans to have half of its individually wrapped candy bars contain 200 calories or fewer by 2020, the same year it plans to make its Hershey’s branded chocolate products with simple ingredients. These efforts fulfill both the healthy interests consumers are showing and the desire for more transparency in their chocolate specifically.
“As they seek out simple, less processed foods, consumers are increasingly scrutinizing ingredients lists and product packaging,” Cargill said. “A clear and understandable label provides clear opportunities to add value.”
Even as companies work to make candy ingredients plainer and appealing to health-conscious shoppers, Cargill noted that indulgence is a key area in which candy makers can capture shoppers.
Recent research from 210 Analytics found that three-quarters of people see candy as a little indulgence and reward, and 74% said candy can be enjoyed in moderation. To that end, Cargill noted that candy companies can deliver by offering exciting flavors — something such candy makers as Jelly Belly do with its BeanBoozled collection of flavors.
Additionally, Cargill identified texture as an area where companies can deliver on indulgence. For Hershey, textural experiments are paying off, with the company noting that its launch of Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch Bars drove seasonal sales growth, and that it’s planning a launch of Hershey’s Crunchers and Reese’s Crunchy Cookie Cups.
“Front-of-pack texture claims are more and more prominent, and brands are finding new, creative ways to describe texture — including as part of the product name,” Cargill said.
Cargill noted that the indulgence aspect of candy can be highlighted by premium offerings, including highlighting ingredients’ origins and technological engagement with the consumer. For example, Mondelez International’s Cocoa Life initiatives showcase the origins of the cocoa for its big chocolate brands, while empowering the farming communities it is supported by. And at the intersection of technological engagement and healthy is Hershey, which plans to roll out its SmartLabel QR codes onto packaging for all standard- and king-size candy labels in 2018.
Ingredient-conscious consumers: Healthy options, premium ingredients drive market
One of the biggest trends in food and beverage in the past several years has been in better-for-you offerings — something that’s expected to continue to influence new products as consumers remain focused on what’s in their favorite snacks and beverages. When IRI published its 2017 New Product Pacesetters report in early April, the firm noted that one of the drivers of category growth has been healthier innovation. Of IRI’s 100 New Product Pacesetters in the food and beverage category, 47 of them featured healthier-for-you-attributes. And 57% of the categories that introduced healthier New Product Pacesetters saw growth higher than the sector average.
Among the 4-in-10 consumers that told IRI they follow healthy eating plans, 52% said they’re looking for food that’s fresh and/or not processed, 44% are looking for something low in sugar and 42% want something with easy-to-understand ingredients. And in its 2017 Shopper Trends Survey, market transparency company Label Insight found a similar focus on healthy food, with 98% of the consumers surveyed saying they believe it’s important for them to consider the ingredients in the food they’re buying. The top-five considerations among consumers when buying foods were whether it is organic (48%), low sugar (43%), natural (43%), high in protein (41%) and has whole grains (39%). Thirty-nine percent of consumers also said that non-GMO is a description that influences what they purchase.
As a result of changing desires, companies are working to deliver the healthier options shoppers want. One of the companies at the fore of the healthy snacking trend has been Kind Snacks, which has been focused on expanding its portfolio. Fitting into several of the categories shoppers look for are the Pressed by Kind fruit bars, which contain two full servings of fruit and no added sugar in addition to being vegan, dairy free and gluten free. Also in the fruit category, Kind debuted its Fruit Bites at Natural Product Expo West. The snacks, set for a May launch, are made only with fruit and contain no added sugars, providing one full serving of fruit. Among Kind’s bars, the company revamped its Strong and Kind line to include 10g of plant protein, and introduced Kind Breakfast Protein, with 8g of protein — 10% of the recommended daily value.
Also looking to check off several boxes of what consumers are looking for in their snacks, while providing the requisite protein for active lifestyles, are companies making meat snacks. Nielsen ScanTrak estimates that the meat snacks space sees annual sales of close to $3 billion, and to increase their share of that pie, companies are highlighting natural ingredients. Among the bigger names looking to appeal to health-conscious consumers is Oberto, which unveiled retooled jerky recipes in March, highlighting all-natural ingredients on packaging that also features sports-themed imagery.
Also in the space is Lorissa’s Naturals, which launched a marketing campaign around the convenience of its 100% grass-fed jerky that contains no preservatives or MSG. Additionally, Mighty Organic — a USDA-certified organic maker of meat snacks — expanded its portfolio in March to include Mighty Sticks, a more environmentally and ingredient-conscious answer to Slim Jim.
Drinking healthy on the rise
When it comes to the beverage space, the biggest trend has been a desire for healthier and premium ingredients, which has led such big names as Coca-Cola and Pepsi to introduce more natural options. Coca-Cola Life is made with stevia and sugar, but less than the amount used in regular Coca-Cola. For its part, Pepsi has introduced 1893, inspired by the original recipes of the soda, adding two flavors to the line that uses kola nut extract, real sugar and sparkling water.
And even hard sodas, whose flavored malt beverage segment led all beer segments in dollar share growth last fall, according to IRI, are emphasizing natural ingredients, including Anheuser-Busch’s Best Damn line of hard sodas, which noted the use of real black tea leaves in creating its hard sweet tea variety, which it introduced alongside three other flavors in February.
But it is a secondary trend — a move away from sodas that was seen when water consumption outpaced soda consumption in 2016 in the United States, according to Beverage Marketing — that’s creating space for healthier options in the ready-to-drink category. The move toward non-sodas and the interest in natural ingredients is driving growth in hard seltzers, with brands touting the low-calorie, naturally flavored product. Anheuser-Busch in September 2016 acquired SpikedSeltzer, whose portfolio includes grapefruit, lime, orange and cranberry flavors. And competitor Truly Spiked & Sparkling expanded its portfolio with its new lemon and yuzu flavor.