Athletes have for years relied on high-protein power bars, to give them an extra burst of energy before a match or competition.
Lately, however, a growing number of busy consumers have been attracted to these products as snacks or meal replacements. According to Statista, U.S. power bar sales rose from $565 million in 2005 to $1.2 billion projected for 2015.
Even though nutrition bars are thought of as part of a healthy protein-centered diet, consumers shouldn't think of them as health food. Most contain lots of sugar, carbohydrates and calories. Remember, these products were originally designed for athletes who need to replace hundreds of calories they have burned off.
The Institute of Food Technologysts (IFT) has tracked 8 emerging trends as manufacturers create different types of power bar products.
Everyone seems to want more protein in their diet and these bars deliver it. Among the most recent product launches, Food Technology magazine associate editor Melanie Zanoza Bartelme finds soy protein and whey protein among the most prominent ingredients.
Other sources include nuts, lamb and even bison. Plant-based pea protein and microalgae are also finding their way into products. There is also plenty of fiber, an ingredient desired by both athletes and consumers trying to lose weight.
Crickets are high in protein and so is Cricket flour, which IFT says is also rich in nutrients. Crickets can be raised using less water, feed and space compared to other animal-based protein sources.
You tend to think of power bars as sweet, almost like a dessert. But an emerging trend is more hearty flavors – things like mango curry, chipotle barbeque, sundried tomato and basil, black olives and walnuts. These types of bars are often promoted as a meal replacement.
New nutrition bar products aren't all about taste, but texture too. The addition of things like nuts in different sizes, crisps, clusters, and other ingredients can add unexpected texture and flavor to different bars and enhance the eating experience, IFT says.
Seeds and ancient grains
Seeds can be an important and flavorful source of protein. Manufacturers are now featuring pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, flaxseed, and ancient grains such as amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum, teff, and buckwheat in their products.
Manufacturers appear to be de-emphasizing sugars, especially refined sugar. To add sweetness and bind ingredients together, some are using things like nut butters, dried fruits, brown rice syrup, date syrup, and coconut sugar as binders.
Athletes are a large, but limited market. There are many more consumers whose idea of a workout is cutting the grass or doing a load of laundry. Manufacturers are now making nutrition bars specifically targeted to women, men, and children. Some of the new bars also target the gluten-free or low-carb markets.
These products were originally called “energy bars” and you'll still find a segment of the market providing an energy boost. These products include stimulants like caffeine to address stress and fatigue.
Whatever power, nutrition or energy bar you choose, it's important to read the label for ingredients. If you are trying to lose weight by loading up on fiber, but get a lot of refined sugar in the process, it defeats the purpose.
For athletes, researchers at Vanderbilt University have found that nutritionists tend to favor bars that are high in carbohydrates. These bars, they say, will give a consumer extra energy without extra fat calories.