The Rise of Healthy Snack Bars: How the Removing Guilt from Indulgence is Shaping a Whole New Consumer Need

Busier lifestyles, more diverse populations, and the drive for immediacy means we are all eating on-the-go more often than in the past.
More recently there has been a noticeable shift to healthier products particularly to self-proclaimed “better for you” version of themselves.

What is a healthy snack?

There’s a big part of me that says a product in its natural form or as close to it as possible is the healthiest snack you can have. A fresh apple, or orange, some dried/cured meat. All packaged goods are a step down from there.
I guess healthy is also what we as consumers perceive as healthy.
In a recent study conducted by Roamler, right after fruit and nuts, over 40% of Europeans opt for ‘healthy’ snack bars as their daily fix: Better a healthy bar than a Snickers or Mars bar?
Segmented according to the type of ingredients used, the snack bar market has seen very high levels of new product activity in recent years. There’s been constant double-digit growth. In this, Granola bars account for the highest sales followed by breakfast/cereal bars. Fruit-based snack bars such as Nakd in the UK and Cactus in Scandinavia also play a big role in the category.

The U.S. leads in product development, so we have a wide range of products such as cereal bars, energy and performance bars, nutrition bars and breakfast bars, and now combi bars offering multiple claimed benefits and features: natural less sugar protein anyone?
Not only has product innovation been a key driver in attracting consumers, the developments of product innovation and promotional campaigns are crucial to compete in the market.
Health positioning has been chosen for over 80% of cereal bars launched in 2015* (90% in the U.S.) and leaders in the market, such as PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay and Mondelez, introduced products and ‘technology’ aimed at removing the guilt from indulging by leveraging power-words such as “natural”, “no added sugar”, “free from” etc.
This is even more pronounced when looking at the ‘free from’ category. Gluten will kill you if you are a coeliac, but itt’s now also a lifestyle choice for many to avoid gluten.

I don’t pretend for one minute that there is not a very large number of consumers much better informed about what is a healthy choice, But , as a matter of facts, “healthy” is driving sales and brands are fighting for a spot to shine…possible at eye level.

With the number of brands on shelf under pressure in terms of available facings because of the rising number of private label products, brands face harsh competition.

As a result, brands struggle to demonstrate stand out positioning. Whereas this category was dominated in recent years by small start up and emerging brands, increasingly, national and international players with large market shares increase the competition.
What is the retailer response to this shift in consumer preference? Increasingly the interest in “healthy” components is reflected in in-store execution with special placements and “info-motional” material.
“Free From” aisles, islands and gondolas are no longer the domain for consumers suffering allergies and intolerances. Retailers are making changes to attract lifestyle consumers to this part of the store.
And at impulse retailers are swapping unhealthy snacks with healthy snacks. 
So where does it go from here? Convenience is another mega trend driving in store development. Consumers who spend less time in store want clean labels and easily understandable nutritional guidance.
There’s no question that in store execution will be increasingly important for suppliers of healthy snacks. In a crowded space, that’s only going to get more crowded, shelf impression and effectiveness will be much more important for healthy products to cut through.