Energy bars are most often associated with top athletes and endurance sports. But as consumers have found themselves pressed for time — and energy — the category has morphed into an array of tasty, low-cost products that provide a quick meal solution across multiple dayparts. More importantly, the category has evolved to include a multitude of variations from healthy snacks to sugar-free and low-carb options that target niche consumers.
The popularity of food bars lies in their simplistic, portable format. Any kind of food bar provides grab-and-go convenience and portion control. But as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to rage on for more than a year, store visits and trips to the gym have fallen precipitously, as have food bar sales.
The snack bars category overall experienced a sharp drop in dollar sales of 19.6% to $663 million, according to market research firm IRI, for calendar year 2020. Unit sales fell 22.2% to 361 million units sold in the convenience channel.
Of the category segments tracked by IRI, nutritional and health bars experienced the biggest drop, falling 21.6% to $428 million. Unit sales slipped more than 23% to 176 million.
Breakfast bars fared better, with one-year sales down 12.8% to $167 million. Unit sales were down 16.5% to 110 million.
In a normal year, these numbers would be devastating, but 2020 was certainly no ordinary year. For that reason, Gary Wilson, a Krauszer’s franchisee who operates three Krauszer’s Food Stores in central New Jersey, expects bar sales to return to normal by the summer.
“All the signs show store visits increasing, and as that happens, sales will get right back to where they were prior to COVID-19,” Wilson said. “Prior to the pandemic, we were having a strong year across all categories, but health bars were doing particularly well, so I expect to get back to those levels by August or maybe September.”
Targeting Future Customers
The bars market has rapidly become more specialized in order to target the growing number of interested consumers, including women, the diet-conscious (both for weight loss and general health) and those with special dietary needs, such as arthritics and diabetics.
The changes in the market’s structure have aided its growth, specifically as c-stores became a major player in overall sales growth. Over the past five years, the share of sports and energy bar products sold in health food stores dwindled from 38.7% to 7.5%, as the mass distribution networks of conveniences stores and supermarkets took control, research firm Mintel reported.